When I have trouble sleeping—and even when I don’t—I like to go outside in the deepest part of the dark. Everything I fear is out here, the coyotes roaming the rim of the woods, the glades deep enough to drown in, my shadow painted on the pavement—there it is—a self so stretched I can’t see past its point of disappearance. What draws me here? When I look back I see our house, the one we’ve finally moved to out here in the country, living now—we are—closer to cliffs and claws, our door substantial, a weighty wedge of wood, the windows sturdy squares, wrapped in vinyl that no amount of rain will rot. After years and years of searching, I finally have what I have always wanted—a home by the forest, a place called mine, where I can stack my books and sip my tea, cups nesting on the shelf I painted primrose blue. Opening the door to darkness is like diving into deep cool pool, the shock of it, the smack of it, reminding me what is real.
Insomniacs have different ways of coping. Some stare at the wall or count cows in their mind; others toss and turn until their sheets are roped around their bodies wet with sweat. Pills come to mind, some tablets, others oblong capsules made of gelatin that dissolve in the mouth and leave a faint tang of sweetness behind. I’ve tried all these tricks and found them all, at times, more or less successful. In the end they don’t matter. Sleep comes to those who wait.
My father, at seventy-four years of age, still struggles with insomnia, his bedside drawer crammed with all manner of questionable cures. Like my sister, of similar temperament, he sleeps with a black gel mask over his eyes and a fan turned on, the white noise blocking the twitches and turns, the pings and guffaws of a planet that never rests. All of us Slaters are sensitive to sound. Our ears, it seems, are magnets, so the whine of a mosquito is multiplied times ten, and the low groan of the crocodile on a bank hundreds of miles away reaches us where we lay, staring at the ceiling, searching for something that cannot be found. No, you don’t find sleep. In the end it finds you, and only when you’ve ceased to scrabble after it.
I have learned not to chase sleep. I have learned that, like a child or a deer, sleep will trot the other way as soon as she sees my outstretched hand. I have also learned, from all those long nights lying in bed, counting the cows as they clear my moon—each one, every time—I have also learned that insomnia, at least for me, is in part a fear of precisely what I claim I long for. Yes, sleep entombs us. As soon as I turn my attention away she is there, laying her long body over mine, her cold invisible hand gagging my mouth, her weight so substantial I cease to stir, and thus I lie there, a body in the night, my muscles paralyzed as every sleeper’s are, while meanwhile, way up in the globe called my head , dancers are whirling and masked men hold sticks of fire. Houses conflagrate and people drop like leaves from silver sky scrapers, their bodies flocking in the air, which is also packed with letters, As and Xs and Zs all falling with the people, some of whom sprout wings and others of whom fail to find their flight, and thus come to the concrete, crashing.
Photo: Ruthanne Reid
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