I can’t sleep. I’m exhausted, and I can’t sleep.
This afternoon I burned through my lunch hour with my boss. Behind closed doors, we talk about work, and then everything else. She confesses that this week she has had to up her sleeping aid from half a pill to one full pill.
“And I can’t sleep without it,” she says. “I’m up in the middle of the night, on the couch, with a book.”
I nod, sympathetically, knowingly. The difference is that I refuse to become dependent on prescription sleep aids. A few years ago when I was in school, I was teetering on the line of failing and passing a class because, seriously deprived of sleep, I couldn’t make it to a 7:45 AM discussion section. A doctor I worked with wrote me a prescription for Ambien, and it was bliss. Until–psychosomatic or not–I realized I couldn’t sleep without it.
Drugs are for recreation, and recreation only. I generally don’t care for them in any other capacity.
And it’s not the drowsiness I need. I need for someone to teach me how to switch off my brain when I lie down at night. I need for the thoughts to quiet themselves down, so all I can hear is the gentle hum of my ceiling fan.
“When did you first start having sleep problems?”
Now I’m sitting in her chair, behind the desk of the marketing director. She’s sitting across from me, where I usually sit, hands on chin and staring at me.
“Second grade,” I say. “But the string of sleepless nights didn’t start until I was 13 or so.”
“That’s young,” she says.
“Yeah.” Don’t ask why.
“Why do you think that is?”
I dodge this bullet because I am The Avoider when necessary. I call it a bullet because no one likes to hear why. I like less to tell it.
Tonight my imagination is at its peak. Hypotheticals, questions, memories, dialogues that I’ve had, dialogues that I haven’t had, and dialogues I never will have. Conversations for characters I haven’t conjured up yet.
But I have worked myself up somehow, because the onset of anxiety is palpable. Tonight the feeling is nervous energy, as if I’m starting a new school tomorrow. As anxiety goes, this is probably the best you can hope for. And yet I can’t lie still. Can’t ignore it. Can’t sleep through it.
“I was reading this magazine last night…” my boss says.
I’m still sitting behind her desk. I feel at ease, but abnormally aware of myself.
“…And this surgeon, she was talking about operating on a child with meningitis, how there was like a…a film on of the surface of the brain. She described–so vividly, what it was like to open the child’s head up and scrape this film, this scum, off of her brain. And I kept thinking, ‘What if we could just clean our brain? Give it a good scrub?'”
I am both grossed out at the visual of a moldy brain and enthralled with the idea of scrubbing my own clean.
At first I think my brain scrub would consist of a quick dunk and rinse in hot, soapy water, much as bartenders do with pub glasses. No; too hasty, I think, and realize my brain scrub would be more of a kitchen sink situation, with the kind of scrub brush that dispenses cleanser as you use it. With the faucet running, lukewarm, as my brain is scrubbed, turned over, rinsed, and scrubbed again. The phrase “caked on grease” enters my mind, as does Electrasol, but I do not support the brain-in-dishwasher theory. Never have liked small spaces.
“Yeah,” I finally say to her. “That would be fantastic.”
I flip onto my back and try to think about nothing but my breathing. I started doing this when I was 15, after I drove my parents crazy, lying on the couch at 3 AM, singing songs from The Sound of Music.
“Megan. It’s three in the morning. Go to bed.”
The breathing thing used to work when I was 15; I suppose I didn’t have as much to think about then as I do now. Now the breathing is mostly a joke, but like a failing relationship, I dedicate myself to it until I know for certain it doesn’t stand a chance.
The tossing has made me warm. I feel moisture on my nose and my faded Rolling Stones tee is tightly corseted around my middle. Covers fly off. I must purge. Even if it’s garbage. Even if nobody understands the transitions between past and present. Even if it’s not what I really want to say right now.
[Jam of the Day]: Feist, Secret Heart