Sunday, January 27, 2008

A sleepless night.

“He is a wicked man, who comes to children when they won't go to bed, and throws a handful of sand into their eyes, so that they start out bleeding from their heads. He puts their eyes in a bag and carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children, who sit in the nest up there. They have crooked beaks like owls so that they can pick up the eyes of naughty human children.”

-- “Der Sandmann,” (1816) by E.T.A. Hoffman

For a good portion of my life, I haven’t been fond of sleep.
Haven’t been fond of laying my head down on cool pillows and closing my eyes, haven’t been fond of wrapping myself up tight against the chills of the night and then shifting, shifting, endlessly shifting while trying to counter-productively shout away the din of my thoughts. It started when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I couldn’t sleep.

There I was, something close to twelve, spending my nights doing little more than staring off into the darkness. No books to read in the agreed upon darkness, no laptop to stream in youtube fantasies, no hard-boiled noirs to talk me down with razor sharp patter. Just my eyes, trying to focus on patterns that probably weren’t even there. Just me, waiting for dreams that weren’t going to happen.

Even now, I rarely remember my dreams.

Back then, I’d do what I could. I’d eventually sit up because of the onslaught of boredom that had been pelting me throughout the night, and I’d do odd things like melting candles into horrific little snot-puddle sculptures made of wax. Seriously man, I aint gonna lie -- these things were ugly little fuckers. But I made them, and I kept them, and some of them still sit around, made. Some nights, I could imagine them staring at me, thin membranes in place of eyes that focused upon me through the walls of the dark. It wasn’t scary; they were mine. But these days, it’s not something I’d like to think about. It had come to a point where I harbored a general feeling of distaste toward sleep, if only as a means of self-preservation. These days, when I don’t sleep, I simply stay awake.

It’s refreshing, really.
Right now, right where I am, I can listen to the rain spatter down onto concrete outside the window over my shoulder. If I were to close my eyes and fall gently, elegantly asleep, the sound of the sky-water would drift away from me, sinking into the depths of my mind as I pull away from the sensations of the world, the ones that I actually make some attempt to understand. If I so wished it, I could step out into the wee hours, feeling my toes get wet behind the insufficient covering of my not-wool socks as I step forwards to nowheres. In particular, these nowheres seem to be. Nowhere and nothing at all. At three in the morn, most things turn out to be meaningless. But still -- I could go, if I wanted to. There’s something to be said for that.

Hey, I could probably hit up the doughnut shoppe!

After all, they’re one of the few sorts of establishments that has the unmitigated audacity to actually stay open past 1:00 AM in the (apparently?) sleepy city of Los Angeles. They’ve given me options, on those nights reminiscent of my youth; the nights where I could do nothing more than stare into walls that began to bleed by way of sheer youthful resolve, as a brain stayed open far past the point where it would feasibly remain useful. It started then, and it’s lasted until now. Long days and longer nights. Sometimes, your head forces you to live like that. To live through that. And sometimes, sometimes, sometimes…in some Stockholm sort of way, it’s what you learn to love.

I love the sounds of the world, while it exists throughout the night. When the sun shines, the sound doesn’t…feel..quite the same. It doesn’t touch the edge of your earlobe in as nearly a delicate manner, not when the general people mill about, unlike the starlight sublimation where the world is like a secret. Know what I mean?

Of course you do. You’ve heard it, you’ve seen it, you’ve felt it, sometime or another. I know you have. And so do you.

I hate sleeping. I hate missing chances to catch knowledge on the wind.

So it was really kind of shocking to learn that I’ve got sleep in me. Because lately, I’ve felt awfully tired. And moreso than ever before, I’ve found myself needing sleep. Long days, and longer nights. I come home with eyes that feel so heavy, it feels like I’ll need drag chutes on my eyelids to keep them from crashing down hard and curling themselves under and around my eyeballs by way of momentum, stretching out sheets of flesh and leaving me totally blind when morning light comes my way. I suppose these things happen, to people who make their dues along the way. Things change. Eyes close. Yet even so, I still hate it when I need to lay myself down. But even now -- now I lay me down to sleep. Et cetera.

Here’s the part where I would usually say, “And so on”. I tend to repeat myself like that. Sometimes as a part of constructing some kind of a whole with this little bimonthly word excursion, but mostly just because I have a tendency to forget what it is I’ve said in the past. It’s rare that I’ll read these, before I toss them into the world. I know them in snippets, the little bits that I focused on, the ones that I can really remember. Like the days in the waking world. You look at the bits while you can, during the virtuoso beats where you manage to keep your eyes open, and you let them affect you how they will. Most of the time, it’s the best we can do. Some of the time, it helps us pass by.

About a week ago, I was ill.
I’m better now, save for the occasional coughing fit that leaves me huddled on the floor like a wounded animal, trying to claw out my lungs with bony fingers while gossamer threads of goo cling to my lips, catching the edges of light. Before that, it was a little worse. I was walking death. I couldn’t sleep.

And yes, right then, I wanted it. Granted, it was more due to practicality as opposed to any real, any solemn desire to close my eyes…but even so, sleep was what I wanted. I wanted it to help me feel better, so that I could stop chugging low-grade drugstore Theraflu knockoffs which caused my body to become little more than a furnace, offsetting the temporary moments of respite with a burning forehead and a body made of nothing but unsettling sweat.

So there I was, sitting in the dark. Twelve years old, even though I’m not quite there anymore. When those seconds are ticking by, it really doesn’t matter, not the years before. In that place, everything feels the same. I could feel the eyes of the garish wax staring me down, wondering what to make of the hands that made them, just like it had been in those old times. This went on and on.

It was after four days had passed that someone offered me an out. Nothing terrible, nothing severe. It was simply something to take the vestiges of panic out of the edges of my thoughts, where they seemed to be clawing themselves into my eyes; it was something that might help me sleep. Alprazolam’s the name. Tiny and white. In the palm of one’s hand, they almost seem to glow. And I turned them down. I had to. I closed that hand and saw their flash slip away as they were taken from the light.

To me, it’s the only thing that made sense.

Now, I’ll have no one mistaking me: I have no patience for supposedly dynamic treatises speaking about advantages of organic foods, holistic medicines, the glorious ways of the rich earth, the old mind, the natural world. The ways that were set by people gone by. The ways set by people who died. Horribly. From a lack of real medicine, from a lack of nutritious food, from a lack of things that truly exist in a world that has gotten better. We’re alive. We’re older. We know things are out there. These days, we know where to look.

But that doesn’t change the fact that some things are ours. Our sleep and our sleeplessness. The sweat on our brow. The pain that has us choking back a grimace. These are the things that sometimes help us grow, that teach us how we might be strong when we need it, how we might be ready when trials come our way.

Whether I like it or not, my sleep is my own. And to give it up, to take my control of it out of my hands, out of my eyes, to give it away to something like that, something so small and white…it feels a bit like losing. It feels a lot like giving up. When things like that begin, I often wonder where they’ll end.

Where my spine meets my neck, I carry my burdens, as do we all. I carry them, even as they grow slick from the falling of the rain that I can still hear cascading behind me. I hate sleeping, I really do. But I still won‘t give it up. After all, every so often, there’ll be an unkind night where I won’t seem to feel that hate quite so deeply.

On that day, my rest will be my own.

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