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  • February 3rd, 2011

Dream Girl

By Joel M. Vance

I hope you’ll forgive me, Marleen, but it has been more than 50 years and I’ve grown up.  You are still 17 and beautiful—my dream girl.  You really were in a dream last night–actually still tonight, for when I came awake at 5 a.m., I got up and began to write this.

You were my dream girl in high school girl, with eyes that flashed, a dimpled smile, and soft, dark hair that draped across your shoulders.  Your cheeks bloomed.  It was always spring on your face, Marleen: full of life and color.

We should have been a couple at Keytesville High School.  We matched so wonderfully back in 1952.  We both were little.  I was five-seven, but you were just the right amount shorter.  I could have leaned forward and kissed you on the forehead if I’d had the nerve.

I didn’t, of course.  You were dainty, with the lingering softness of what they inelegantly call baby fat.  Girls wore fuzzy sweaters in the 1950s and there never has been an article of clothing better designed to show a soft curve.

Forgive me for saying things that I couldn’t have said in 1952 if you’d used thumbscrews on me.  You were going with the West Point cadet you ultimately married and still are married to; I was skinny and as dumb as livestock when it came to girls in general and you in particular.

I was all talk, wisecracks and bluff but around you, I could only mumble and stumble and act the fool.  I lived six miles from town and a dozen miles from you, didn’t have a car, didn’t have any money, and was a shambling hayseed.    One girl I dated told her best friend who then told me with cruel satisfaction that I was “as green as grass.” It was an unerringly accurate description.  I had the savoir faire of a tuna fish.

You were the most beautiful girl in school and you were unofficially engaged.  A girl who was going steady was off limits to any but the boldest, and a girl who was unofficially engaged, especially to a West Point cadet, might as well have been Rita Hayworth in a movie at the El-Jon Theater.

I hope you won’t consider it disloyal when I say that my life has been wonderful without you.  A dream is art and life traditionally does not imitate art.  Fantasy doesn’t admit cold and bitterness and heartbreak.  We’re all 17 and holding in our dreams.

Now, first light is beginning on a dreary early March day.  In the dream I had last night, I’d gone back to Keytesville High School’s reunion.  They have one every year, but I’ve only been to a couple in the 50-plus years since we graduated.  At one I didn’t recognize my cousin who had aged, lost his hair and acquired a big gut.  He’s younger than me…but in my mind, I’m still 17 years old.

I bored my wife for a week before the reunion I did go to, saying I hoped you would be there.  My wife knows you’re my dream girl, the prettiest girl at Keytesville High School.  She’s not jealous; she knows my memories are quixotic creatures of a hyperactive imagination.  She was disappointed for me when you didn’t come.

She also knows that she is my reality.  We have been married—and in love– for 54 years and have five grown children.  We still delight in each other and when I look at her and hold her, I feel complete.  I don’t really need you, Marleen, but I need the thought of you, just as some children need an imaginary playmate.

In my dream, I had only stopped in to drift along the edges of the reunion activity, observing, but not being observed.  There was no real reason for me to mingle–you weren’t there or so I thought.  Then someone showed me a panoramic photo of the reunion, a big wide-angle shot of the gymnasium floor with hundreds of people sitting at tables and assembled in little conversational groups.

You were in the upper left hand corner, fairly far back, sitting at a round table.  I have no idea whom you were with because I saw only you.  You claimed my eye instantly and my mouth went dry.  You were there!

Or you had been.  “I didn’t know Marleen was coming!” I squeaked to whoever had showed me the photo.

“Yes,” the shadow person said.  “She was here a while ago.”

But you had gone.  You had come and I had missed you because I didn’t mingle.  Was this symbolic?  Was my subconscious telling me that I should have been more assertive when Mr. Eisenhower was president?  Big secret–any two-bit psychologist could tell me that.  My subconscious demanded a happy ending and brought you back to the reunion.  There was a time shift in the dream, and we were talking.  Dare I believe you came back to see if I were there?

As we talked the years melted away.  I don’t know how I looked to you, but you looked splendid to me.  My dream mind aged you but my imagination was wonderfully kind to you.  You were far from matronly (and far from more than 70 years old, at least as most of us appear at that age).  You were unlined and trim and nicely-dressed, though I’m unobservant enough that I can’t tell you what you were wearing.

You looked much as you had looked in our senior year when we played the mischievous twins in the class play, a typically stupid Keytesville production.  Kids today mount elaborate, costumed productions of South Pacific or West Side Story.  We put on The Daffy Dills, a silly “comedy” written by the literary equivalent of Clem Kadiddlehopper.

I was only in those plays because it gave me a chance to be close to you.  Especially when we were the daffy Dill twins.  You kissed me backstage one night at practice.  Do you remember that?  I always wanted to kiss you, but nothing could have made me try.  We were talking backstage and no one was around and you stepped close to me and kissed me.

Maybe you were practicing what they used to call womanly wiles before the days of femlib.  You didn’t have to practice with me.  I was the easiest target in the gallery.  I was a two-inch putt, an uncontested layup.  Probably you were just having a little mouse fun while the cat was off at West Point.

But you gave me something to dream on before we turned in different directions.

I just looked through our senior yearbook, the Regit, which was “Tiger” spelled backward.  I don’t remember whose idea that was, but I hope it wasn’t yours or mine.  At that, it’s better than Tiger Folleader, the previous name.  Folleader was a clumsy conjoining of  follower and leader.

Your photo is the first among the seniors.  You are looking back over your shoulder, as if someone you cherish had just called to you from behind.  Perhaps it was me, but I doubt it.  More likely it was your mother saying that your cadet was telephoning from West Point.  I’m at the lower right hand corner of the page, you at the upper left.  If it were me you were looking for, you would be looking slightly down.  No, it probably was the cadet.

I’m saddened to find that you wrote nothing in my yearbook.  Maybe I was too shy to ask.  According to your capsule biography, you were class officer, Barnwarming queen, pep squad leader for three years, editor of the yearbook, student council and glee clubber.  I was on the track squad with a penchant for knocking over hurdles.

But in my dream I was unbelievably at ease and articulate.  You said you had to go, but I pleaded with you to stay and talk, and you did–but I knew if I didn’t keep your attention, you would vanish and my dream would end.  You asked me to show you something that I’d written and, the way it happens in a dream, a computer was handy with some past stories of mine stored in it.  I sat at the keyboard and you leaned over my right shoulder, watching the screen.

I couldn’t remember the commands and my fingers fumbled and hit the wrong keys.  Finally, I was able to call something onto the screen and you began to read it.  I’ll never know what happened after that because the dream began to fragment.

The moment had passed, but it had been so real, so immediate.  Shortly after, I woke and came down to begin writing about it.

Why would I dream of you in such detail and so vividly after more than 50 years?  I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about you before, though I’ve occasionally thought about you.

It’s not that I need you, Marleen, that there are regrets.  I have no regrets.  It’s not that the backstage kiss was better than any kiss since.  Actually my wife is the best kisser I’ve ever known.  I put you on a pedestal in high school and I keep you there still, but it’s not that there was some poignancy, some intimacy that I long for.  Given circumstances, there wasn’t even a what-might-have-been.

There’s just me being incurably romantic even when I’m asleep.  You’re among my souvenirs, with the yearbooks and the dated photographs.  Every now and then a sympathetic caretaker steals into my dreams and dusts them off and holds them up for me to see.

So, Marleen, I hope you come and visit me in dreams once in a while.  Nothing tawdry, you understand.  We’ll continue to meet at reunions during R.E.M.  Perhaps we can dance, even though I was a terrible dancer in high school.  I don’t think we ever danced, even my limited and clumsy foxtrot.  Except for that one kiss, I don’t think my arms ever were around you.  And even then, it was a tentative clasp that lasted only a wonderful instant before we broke apart and you laughed with your dimples and I blushed furiously and made some stupid wisecrack and wished I knew what to do next.

There’s a line in a song: “Give me a kiss to build a dream on…”  The dream of you always is fresh and wondrous.  The reality of you?  Well, I’m sure it would be pleasant.  We would visit and chat like old friends and remember our classmates and laugh about The Daffy Dills and maybe even joke about that kiss.  But dreams are soap bubbles and reality is a sharp pin.

You would no longer be the Marleen of 1952, nor even the dream Marleen of last night.  You would be a Marleen, but not my Marleen.

I think maybe it’s better that you stay my Marleen…and that I go upstairs and brew a cup of coffee.


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  1. Carrie Vance DeValk

    February 3rd, 2011 at 9:25 pm


    AWW! Even though I should be chagrined that you wrote this about someone other than my mom, I love it! Who doesn’t have a Marlene? I suppose you remember Keith Wilson? I do, but much the same way as Marlene.

  2. Carrie Vance DeValk

    February 5th, 2011 at 4:59 pm


    Yes, I think you made a good decision with Marty. Your love for each other inspires me every day with Ron.

    Romantic Offspring

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