In Pickwick Papers, Pickwick checks into the Great White Horse Inn in Ipswich, is shown to his room by a chamber-maid only to discover that he's left his watch downstairs. He retrieves it but then cannot find his way back to his room. He's utterly, hopelessly lost. "Rows of doors... branched off in every possible direction. A dozen times did he softly turn the handle of some bed-room door which resembled his own, when a gruff cry from within of "Who the devil's that" caused him to steal away.... He was reduced to the verge of despair when an open door attracted his attention. He peeped in.... There were the two beds, whose situation he perfectly remembered." Pickwick steps inside and has removed his clothes when another person enters the room. He conceals himself. Bad turns to worse. "Mr. Pickwick almost fainted with horror and dismay. Standing before the dressing-glass was a middle-aged woman in yellow curl-papers, busily engaged in brushing her hair.... 'I never met with anything so awful as this,' thought Mr. Pickwick, 'what a dreadful thing.' Uncertain how to proceed, Pickwick 'ha-hums.' "Gracious Heaven!" said the middle-aged lady, "what's that?" "It's -- it's -- only a gentleman, ma'am." "A gentleman!" said the lady, with a terrific scream. "It's all over!" thought Mr. Pickwick."
The expected complications ensue. At last, Pickwick flees, carrying his clothes and dropping his shoes. But the nightmare continues because he still can't locate his assigned chamber. Fortunately, he runs into his servant, Mr. Samuel Weller, who escorts him back home.
Clearly, Mr. Pickwick is directionally disabled.
Am I the only directionally-challenged person for whom Pickwick's story is a horrible fear. I've had repeated nightmares of exactly this complexion. In fact, I've dreamed this very dream dozens, perhaps scores of times. I check into a hotel, go for a walk in a strange city and then, for some reason, the elevator doesn't go to my floor, or the staircase comes to a sudden end, or the room numbers go from 401 to 405 when I know that my room is 403. I wander endlessly until I wake up in a sweat, heart pounding.
And now I have to admit that I once narrowly dodged this embarrassment. In real life. I was staying at a bed-and-breakfast somewhere in the west of Ireland. There was no private bathroom -- the facilities were down the hall and a half a flight downstairs. In the middle of the night, after obeying a call of nature, attempting to return to my room, I stepped into a room that was not mine. I was just about to get into bed with a strange party when I realized my predicament. Fortunately, I was able to escape without waking anyone. I found my own room (good thing there were only two to a floor) but I was in quite a state for an hour or so.
As I'm writing this, I'm guessing that most of my readers will harrumph their feelings of superiority. "Couldn't happen to me." My directionally dyslexic friends, however, will understand. And they will also know why I sympathize and empathize with poor Pickwick.