It happens every night, like clockwork. Because, it is clockwork. I have the circadian rhythm of a vampire who had an affair with a night owl.
I should be a bartender, or a shift worker of some sort. I feel like I am just waking up around dusk. It’s something that I have fought against my whole life. And each night, with total surprise, I look at the microwave (because that’s my clock) and am shocked to see that it’s 3:30 a.m.—or worse. I want to punch myself in the face when I realize it’s later than 4:30, because that is beyond the point of no return.
Legend has it that I loved to sleep-in even as a young child circa the era of wearing pajama bottoms with built-in slippers (awful idea, it was like sleeping inside a warm fart). My parents would gradually panic as the clock neared 9 am—surely as a normal, healthy child I would want to be awake and watching The Jetsons and The Flinstones with a bowl of soggy Froot Loops. Nah.
Not even cartoons enticed me.
In grade 8 I had mononucleosis, the “Kissing Disease,” which I will blame on Rodney Burden. Maybe Robert LeBovic. I slept for the entire month of June. I vaguely remember being shuttled back and forth to all three grandmothers (one was great), where I would sleep until it was time to be picked up again by my parents. I could barely eat one quarter of Nan’s lovingly prepared sailboat sandwiches (peanut butter sandwich, Wonder Bread, cut into a neat foursome, lined up like sailboats on a plate). Sleeping was the only thing I could accomplish without prompting.
I slept for another month in high school somewhere around grade 12, when I came down with the dreaded kissing disease again (Chris Kempster? Greg Box?). Apparently I needed to find a new business venture. The after-school kissing booth was cramping my style and wakefulness.
I can’t blame kissing anymore. Unless one can get mono from kissing their pillow and various dogs in Riverdale park. I think I am just a good sleeper and should accept it already. I don’t stay up until 4:30 am because I have insomnia—far from it. I stay up because it feels wrong to only be awake for nine hours a day.
Maybe it’s a job-hazard. I listen to gentle waves crashing and chirping birds all day, ad nauseum. I work in a dimly lit room and lull people to sleep on a daily basis. I listen to clients snore while whales talk to each other on some Solitudes CD.
My mother always told me I was “sleeping my life away.” Ha! I am quick to repeat the line when she fades away at 8 pm and vanishes to the bedroom (already sleepwalking). I know her ritual. Mom fluffs her side of the King bed for her and the two cats, Chloe and Izzy. She creates the barricade of pillows to prevent disruption from my dad sleeping beside her, and after reading one page of her 500-page novel on the holocaust (that she’s been reading for the last year), she falls asleep. I’ve called home near her ‘curfew’ and my mother suddenly disappears from the upstairs phone line as though she has been kidnapped.
“I guess we’ve lost Mom,” my dad says when there is no response to a direct question to her.
When my dad tucks into bed, after watching Sportsline, the cats are ready to begin their Indy 500 drag races around the master bedroom. My dad has been scolded on more than one occasion by my mother for waking the cats during the day. They will be curled up like shrimps in the sun and my dad will poke at them.
“Larry, leave them alone.”
“No, they wake me up at night, so if they are awake during the day, they will sleep better at night.”
I laugh (now) to think back to that dreaded last week of August before school began. My dad would make Kiley, Dax and I “train our bodies.” We actually had to train ourselves to sleep that last week of the summer so we would be properly prepared for our scholastic schedule come September. Ugh. The torture! What my dad may or may not know is that as soon as he went to bed, we smuggled cans of Coke and bags of chips into the basement where we would watch City TV’s Late Late Night Movie (at such a low decibel we could barely hear the movie over the crunch of the potato chips). We were training our bodies to be more versatile and spontaneous.
Just weeks ago, at Kim and Steph’s house, I found my all-nighter competition in Kim. Steph and Lynne had casually “gone to the bathroom” shortly after midnight and did magical segues into bed. Steph came into the kitchen around 6 am. “You two are still awake? It’s 6 am!” I told Steph we were waiting for the fire to die out. Nobody told me it was a gas fireplace.
When I do choose to sleep, it’s instantaneous. I have to set an alarm if I need to wake up before 12. And if I have any kind of engagement that requires me to be somewhere before 10 am, I dream awful dreams that I am far, far away from where I’m supposed to be. I’m in Africa instead of at the dentist office around the corner on Parliament street. I toss and turn and chase the minutes on the alarm clock. The fear of having to wake up at a specific hour gives me a whole new sleep neurosis.
I’ve often thought that I might be narcoleptic. I could drink a Jet Fuel double-shot mochachino or a Red Bull (with or without vodka) and fall asleep and be dreaming within 10 minutes flat. I go for a reflexology treatment and have to be rudely awakened at the end with an aggressive shoulder shake. On my last visit, Fanny drilled me above my left heel and when I went white-knuckled with pain she questioned me: “Insomnia?”
No, not insomnia. I did have it once for a solid five months. It was heartbreak-induced, and even then, if I cried long and hard enough I would eventually yawn and fall asleep, bored with my own melancholy and Oscar-worthy tears over unrequited love.
When I do take myself to bed, finally, as the early birds (the ones who get the worms) start churling and cheeping, I find myself in a land of fantastic dreams. I sleep for 10-12 hours and wonder how I don’t emerge with bedsores.
And here I am, once again. It’s after midnight and I’m thinking of a toasted pita with gouda and sundried tomatoes, some hot peppers. I’ve poured some more gewürztraminer in my glass and am finding comfort in the still of the night.
I need to embrace this.
I was the kid who read books under the bed covers with a flashlight until the batteries died.
I pulled all-nighters for every exam I ever wrote (reading Macbeth and The Great Gatsby in alternating chapters one year).
I love New Year’s Eve and the magic that midnight brings on December 31st.
I am a night owl. I am a good, successful sleeper.
I will rest my case, and myself…shortly.
The feeling of sleepiness when you are not in bed, and can’t get there, is the meanest feeling in the world. ~Edgar Watson Howe