The ‘older woman’ and shattered dreams

June 2023

By David Roper

1966. She sat before me in all her 21-year-old splendor. She looked relaxed, as if she were enjoying the coolness that came with the late summer afternoon. Her hair was cut short. She combed it with her fingers now, tilting her head back while putting every windblown strand in place.

We’d anchored in an isolated little cove not far from an island with a dune-filled beach that partially rimmed my small cruising sloop. It was a good, safe anchorage and we had things all to ourselves.

I felt worldly. I leaned back on the cockpit coaming, a 16-year-old surveying the horizon like an old salt at the end of a dying day. I didn’t realize that the setting sun highlighted the peach fuzz of a beard on my face. I didn’t realize that the tufts of curly red hair that sprouted from under the band of my dirty white tennis hat – which I had put on much too late in the day – made me look like a sunbaked cabbage patch character.

“Well, that was a nice sail. Most everyone else will have to be back to the rat race tomorrow morning,” I said musingly.

She turned to me and smiled. “But not you, Dave. Not the roving sailor.”

I looked at her. Nodded slowly. “My dream ever since I was little has been to buy a boat and sail up and down the Massachusetts coast by myself.”

“And you’re halfway now,” she said.

“Yeah.” I looked seaward. “But my big dream is to sail the world someday.”

She was silent for some time. Perhaps lost in thought. “Were those some of your college friends at the party where we met the other night?” she asked.

“Well, mostly, yeah, ah, college friends.” I hurried it along, my mind scrambling for the name of a college, any college, that I knew something about. “And you? Just here for the summer fun?”

“Yes. That and some waitressing. I’ve been coming every summer since freshman year.” She shook her head. “This is sadly the last time, though. Graduated. Yikes! Real world coming.”

I looked around the tiny cockpit of my sloop. “This is my real world,” I said, gesturing with my hand. Slowly, my arm came down and I began to lightly smooth the small hairs on the back of her neck.

She straightened. Turned to me. Cocked her head. “You just started college somewhere, didn’t you say?”

“Oh, no. Ah, a junior actually. At the party I must have told you. But I think mostly I talked about my sailing and voyaging. And going on this sail with you,” I said.

“Got a major yet?’

“Me? Oh, certainly.”

“Soooo . . . what is it?”

My mind raced. “Psychology.”

“That’s cool. That was my major. You know, speaking of your sailing dreams and psychology, I wonder: can a dream ever be a reality? Can a dream ever be achieved? Doesn’t it lose everything it is, in essence, when it is realized?”

I tried to look thoughtful. Wise. “Hmmmmm.”

“Have you studied Freud yet, Dave? His theories state that dreams have a manifest content – the conscious experience during sleep, the dream that we remember – and a latent content. He proposed that the latent dream content is composed of three elements: the sensory impressions during the night; the residues of the previous day; and the id’s instinctive drives. During sleep, the repression by the super-ego is weakened due to the absence of voluntary motor activity; this increases the possibility of instinctive impulses reaching consciousness.”

“I see,” I said. (Though really I was lost at sea.) Jesus, I thought, she really studied psychology.

“Well, anyway,” she continued. “We agree on a premise – that a dream is something not yet achieved. It is something that has its greatest power, its greatest drive, in its latent state. It is something that is not tarnished by any of the pitfalls of reality. It is not happening. It is imagined. Therefore, it is not a reality. For a dream to be achieved, it has to become a reality. Right? And since something that is not real isn’t, then a dream cannot be. See?”

I knew I was in deep. I’d sailed into heavy cross seas with this girl. (Girl? No. This was a woman!) But I felt attacked. I wanted to defend my romance, defend my dream. “I think that if you stop and define things all the time, you get caught up in words and get nowhere. At least I’m headed somewhere. At least I have a goal. A dream. I mean, you’re sort of saying that my dream is nothing.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but it’s just that it seems kind of . . .”

“Kind of what?”

“Well, unrealistic.” She looked hard at me before continuing. “And, well, maybe a bit immature.”

My face prickled. “Well, if that’s what you think.” I pointed to myself. “But it seems pretty mature that, all alone, this particular 16-year-old . . .” I stopped. Took a deep breath.

She stiffened again. “Look, David,” she said. “We’re just talking in circles and that never gets anywhere. Plus, I don’t think we’re . . .”

“Well, it’s just that . . .”

She turned to me. The sun was setting now, beginning to melt into the sand dunes on the beach to the west of my small sloop. “You know, I really should get back, David. It’s getting late.”

I knew it then. This day’s dream voyage was dying with the setting sun.

And the real world was waiting.

For her, anyway.

David Roper’s upcoming novel, “The Ghosts of Gadus Island,” is scheduled for publication this year. Dave is the author of the three-time bestseller “Watching for Mermaids,” as well as the sequel “Beyond Mermaids” and the novel “Rounding the Bend.” All are available through or