“I have to go back into the past once more. Just once more. And then I’ll be free of the past.” -Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Vertigo.
I served a four-year hitch in the Air Force from 1962 to 1966. I was a medical corpsman. In my last two years, I was fortunate to be assigned to the Air Force Academy Hospital, about 10 miles from Colorado Springs. The city sits in the shadow of Pikes Peak, and no matter where you go, it dominates the landscape.
I loved Colorado Springs, with its Western-style wide streets, Spanish architecture and busy downtown. Though I was happy to leave the service, go to college, and get on with my life, it was a sad day when I headed back to Maryland in my car and watched Pikes Peak get smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror with every mile.
For many years after, I had a strange recurring dream. I was driving on a highway, and up ahead on my left, I could see some sort of power plant, with smoke rising from it. As soon as I got near it, I would wake up. For a long time, I had no idea where I was in the dream. It haunted me.
Then one day about five years ago, I passed a similar power plant near the New Jersey Turnpike, and the dream flashed in my head. I suddenly realized that I might be dreaming about—not New Jersey—but Colorado Springs, although I couldn’t be sure. I continued to have the dream occasionally, still always waking up before I reached the power plant.
In 2004, my wife and I took Amtrak from Massachusetts to California to visit one of my daughters. On the way back, we stopped for several days in Denver, rented a car, and drove down to Colorado Springs. The city was much, much bigger, with thousands of houses and condos sprawled across the valley, and a few ugly, high-rise office buildings downtown. But it was still a lovely place.
When we approached the city on Interstate 25, we took the Fillmore exit, which is what I used to do when I drove down from the Air Force Academy. As we pulled off the exit, I suddenly said to my wife, “The highway bypasses the city a little to the west, and I think that is where you can see the power plant I’ve been dreaming about all these years.”
After grabbing lunch in town, we drove north and got on I-25 South, and started looking for the power plant. I told my wife to watch for it on the left. I said, “If it’s really there, I have to drive by it, so I can complete the dream.” It was a weird moment. I felt myself trembling.
About two miles later, I spotted a power plant way up ahead, smoke pouring out of it. But it appeared to be on the right! “That can’t be,” I said, “I just know it’s on the left.” Sure enough, a minute later, the highway curved noticeably, and as we got closer to the plant, it was clearly going to be on the left. It looked exactly like it did in my dream.
We passed it, took the next exit back into town, and got some coffee. I’ve never had the dream again.