MICHAEL JEWELL A&E Editor
Who let the Saint Bernard into my living room at this hour? What other explanation holds up to deconstructing my unsettled, fitful cloak of sleep torn in two by the sound of a large joweled dog hungrily slurping at a dish of water a yard or two around the corner from my single bed without stopping? I listen, my sheets tangled at my feet, to this animal for the better part of an hour while I pull the pieces of the universe together. I’m hearing hammer blows now, sharp and repetitive. A furtive glance show there is no dog. What is that sound? I need to get my feet on the floor and dispel the illusion or else the contractors peeling old paint from the corpse of the house outside my window will never fully take shape.
Sleeplessness and I go back a long way. I do not have insomnia. In fact, I have no diagnosed condition that would suggest a reason for my troubled history with the sandman and the infrequency of our trysts. That warm, fade to black embrace of sleepiness is now a lost relic of my childhood that’s left no imprint on my present restless bedtime experience. I watch the clock roll on and then sometime in between three and for a.m. it’s morning again. Occasionally, there are dreams, good ones, bad ones, naked in public dreams that spring to life out of thin air. The last time I remember actually falling asleep though, was when I was very young. I think I was on a camping trip.
I couldn’t tell you how much I sleep in a night, but my body over the years has adjusted to new parameters. I don’t know whether I sleep restlessly or heavily, but when I’m awake and manage to get on my feet, the rest of the day is downhill. I don’t experience the mythologized struggle with drowsiness, but I like to get up very early and stretch my morning routine out for several hours, letting the real world enter my consciousness incrementally, otherwise the shock would kill me. I am either impervious to caffeine’s effects on my body or slavishly addicted to them. I don’t plan on restricting my intake of four to six cups of daily tea to find out. Either way I spend my waking hours in an unwavering state of alertness, especially at night, when normal people feel the weight of the world drag them back into oblivion. Bedtime for me is strictly regulated as a matter of necessity, but like most totalitarian edicts, is impossible to enforce.
Who wants to sleep anyway? I spend my waking hours avoiding being vulnerable to my enemies and rolling my eyes inside my sockets. If I didn’t need REM sleep to survive I would opt out. Dreaming either bores or frightens me out of my wits and I always end up twisted in an impossibly violent sheet and limb pretzel, ruining my lower back. The only benefit to sleeping in my opinion is waking up and spending a precious winter morning hour buried alive by a cavern of six blankets and my own insulated body heat. There are too many books to read, hell, too many to write to waste half of my life in a bloody unconscious state.
No, I don’t fall asleep easily, and I frankly don’t want to associate with those who can. I twist and turn endlessly wracked with anxiety at night. I live extremely comfortably compared to most people who by all means don’t. Have I earned my place? I’m not proposing a sanctimonious boudoir passion play for all the world’s suffering as a test of decency. We all have to find a way to got on. But there is a degree to which I expect to be troubled by life’s cosmic mystery and manifold suffering before I lay down my head. My problem is moderation. My mind is an endlessly self-perpetuating grief-generating engine that constantly evolves and adapts new and more horrifying neuroses for each primal specter I conquer. I work every day to slay my deep seeded fear of the dark, fear of disease, the endless obsession with and fear of death, death, death only to be overwhelmed by money troubles, petty jealousies and rivalries and crushes, the aches and pains and fallibility of my body, and the all-powerful guilt of not doing enough to earn my one ticket on this rock. If I one day find myself elbowing the ribs of a bedmate in the wee hours of the morning, how many hours will we spend thrashing together in pursuit of that rest we all need. How many will be enough?
For years I built the warm, overwhelming drowsy panacea of over-the-counter sleeping pills into my routine before I cut myself off cold turkey my freshman year. My brain and my body may not go quietly, but I’m determined to reconcile myself with them on their terms. Each blurry hour after midnight when my ears buzz with unfiltered sin waves and my brain revs in a flurry of activity and my head feels as if it wants to levitate itself above my pillow and drag the dead, listless weight of my body skyward counts down to the day when my body makes peace with itself.