I’d Marry Sir Richard Carlisle if I Had To

I have a few rules about dreams. One, unless the person you are talking to was in them or something especially surprising or funny happened, they aren’t worth retelling. And two, while there may be familiar images and scenarios from your real life, the argument that dreams have deeper meanings (think Freudian nonsense and the like) is preposterous.

You could say that I am about to break both of these rules in this post, but I’d argue that what I’m really writing about is my reaction to the dream when I woke up this morning.

Let’s begin with a bit of backstory.

In the past week, I have rewatched Downton Abbey twice with different people and spent my spare time researching the era. I also take medication that has a side effect of making me have incredibly vivid dreams. Cue waking up in a panic, screaming and punching (this happens about once a month) or leaping out of bed at four a.m. thinking that I need to save a drowning child. I wake up around twice a night from dreams and if I’m sleeping lightly, especially when it’s light out, it happens almost every half hour.

So last night, I dreamed that I was engaged and was being dragged around during my first London season by the Dowager Countess of Granthem to tell everyone about the news. My fiancé was akin to Sir Ricard Carlisle, and even though I was not happy about the arrangement, I was resigned to go ahead with the marriage.

Then, I woke up, realized it was the middle of the night, curled back up with my favorite pillow, stuck my cold hands under Max’s stomach (he was not too happy about that arrangement and kept squirming away in his sleep), and fell back asleep for a few more hours. And it wasn’t until I woke up and was texting Cecelia about our marathon yesterday that I really started to consider the dream.

Obviously, it was the result of watching the show too much, but as time went on, I realized something. The previous day, I had asked Cecelia which character she would want to be, and when she turned the question back around, I didn’t hesitate before saying Mary or Sybil. Wanting to be Sybil is easy to understand–she’s independent, has a strong personality and convictions, and ultimately runs away with Tom Branson to live the life she wants and not the one that her birth decided for her. Sybil is unquestionably awesome.

But wanting to be Mary is much more complex. Mary is often mean and controlling, in constant competition with Edith, and forever ending up in bad situations mostly of her own creation. She gets dealt a very bad hand in life, and her relationship with Matthew makes me so stressed out that I can’t get through some of the episodes without crying.

Yet despite all of that, I still want to be her. I almost always automatically like older siblings, and Mary is no exception to that rule. But more than that initial connection, I feel like I understand why she acts the way she does. Not only is she dealing with the familial pressure to marry the heir because of the entail, but she’s a member of a society that is full of unfair restrictions and expectations. She has known for years that she will probably never marry for love and that she will have to spend the next forty to fifty years of her life putting on a charade of domestic bliss and doing boring, almost useless tasks, like arranging dinners and paying calls. She doesn’t have a future to look forward to, and after Pamuk, it only gets worse. Her relationship with Matthew gets ruined because she can’t tell him what happened, and she’s stuck with Sir Richard because no one else will take a girl who is “spoiled good.”

Now, I am not a member of a peerage, society isn’t forcing me into an unhappy life, and I haven’t had a Turkish gentlemen die in my bed (I don’t think that I’ve even met any Turkish men.), but I do know why Mary would marry someone she didn’t love if it would “give her a position.” Sir Richard is the only chance she’s likely to ever get. She needs to have someone to give her a place in society and provide her with money. It may not be ideal, but it is necessary if you’re no longer desirable.

And I think that if I were in Mary’s place, I would have reacted in the same way with Carlisle. I would have resigned myself to an unhappy marriage.

In real life, I know that I’m not a particularly ideal person to live with. My chances of marriage are probably very low, and when it comes to healthcare, I’m expensive. So if someone came along who could pay for doctors and medicine and wouldn’t hate me for spending lots of time in bed with the lights off, I would take it. That’s not to say that I would prefer that arrangement to love–I would much rather the excitement of Sybil’s life and her relationship with Branson–but in all likelihood, I won’t get that, and I’ll be like Mary minus the Matthew bit.

But enough of that. Maybe tonight my brain will decide that it’s high time to hang out on a pile of wood chips or play with dragons.

Ella, Downton Abbey, and Hospitals

This afternoon, Cecelia and I watched well over seven hours of Downton Abbey, as she finished up viewing the second series, and among the many things that occurred to me as I lay curled on her guest room bed was just how awful it is to be trapped in a hospital when you’re sick.

Now, I’ve never been to war, been shot at (with something more lethal than an airsoft gun), or even been a situation where I’ve had to truly fear being attacked, but I do know what it’s like to spend extended time in hospitals.

I was reminded of February 2010 and being strapped to a gurney and racing to the hospital in an ambulance. It was snowing and the highways hadn’t even been plowed. The part of me that had always wondered what the inside of an ambulance looked like was massively disappointed, and being physically restrained by the straps and blankets was terrifying. I was entirely imprisoned, incapable of doing so much as shifting my weight. Before they loaded the gurney, I couldn’t even shield my eyes from the rapidly falling snowflakes and finally had to close them because the dissolving water stung.

I kept insisting that I could sit up, that I wouldn’t move, and that I would feel so much better if they even loosened the straps a tiny bit. But procedure is procedure, and I spent the next thirty minutes staring at the white metal ceiling while I had my vitals checked for what felt like the fiftieth time. There’s the feeling of being constantly lied to by the doctors and nurses and having information withheld and given to parents or other caregivers because “it would be too much for you to handle.” And the utter helplessness of not being allowed to make any of your own decisions.

I was one of those difficult and also easy patients. It took six nurses and my father to hold me down when they wanted blood and I wouldn’t let anyone touch me without being told exactly what they were going to do and massive amounts of persuasion, but I chatted and was pleasant otherwise. I was skilled at being charming around adults and authority figures before, and it certainly came in handy then. Being liked by the nurses and doctors means extra yogurt for breakfast and longer showers, which when you’re spending days without seeing the outdoors, feel like extravagances.

And in some ways, it gets worse once the initial emergencies are over and most of the healing is done, when you’re stuck in a bed knowing that you’ll be trapped there for ages as you get dragged through a dull and depressing schedule for days on end. Sure, they’ll be people to talk to and ping-pong tables (Who knew that those existed and were popular during WWI?), but you can’t do anything that matters. You’re in a holding cell, watching the endlessly revolving door of nurses and doctors switching shifts and other patients leaving and arriving. You find yourself more than ever wishing that you were one of the number of the people rushing about and looking tired and over-worked.

Later, you sometimes wake up in a panic, thinking that you’re still there, trapped in a tiny bed, with nurses watching your every move. But it was just a dream–there’s no one hovering over you with a blood-pressure cuff or thermometer. You don’t have to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten whenever someone so much as pokes their head in the door. There aren’t kitchy murals painted everywhere and the awful knowledge that someone might have died in the very bed you’re sleeping in right now. You can get up and move without worrying about setting off a million alarms and decide to eat collard greens for breakfast while sitting on the kitchen floor.

No matter how you’re hurt, being in a hospital is nasty business, and when I look at the men staring into space or begging for a sheet of paper and a pen, I feel a very weird sort of kinship. Perhaps that’s odd and perhaps I’m just a little too tired after two days of very little sleep and listening to lots of screaming in the house, but I feel it just the same.