A quick glance at the clock tells me it’s 12am. In my head, I tally the time left til my alarm clock goes off… I’ve got 5 hours. I try not to let the frustration distract me from my goal.
Sleep. I’ve got to sleep.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to control my breathing. In and out and in again. Steady and slow.
Breathe. My mind whispers, my eyes still shut. I will my body to relax completely and, in my head I say again, breathe.
While that one word spins around on repeat through my head, another part of my brain joins the chorus. It decides to take a count of the number of times I say breathe. It wonders how high I’ll count before I drive myself crazy. No, this isn’t like counting sheep. This is like banging my head against a wall. And now, another part of my brain starts to wonder how many different ways I know to say ‘breathe’.
Let’s see. Respirar. Kokyu shimasu. Dyshat. Hoheubhaneun: that’s my favourite. And I wonder, ‘why the hell do I know so many random words in random languages and yet aren’t fluent in any of them?’
I sigh disgustedly. Obviously that’s not working. Without opening my eyes or moving, I wave a hand through the loud parts of my mind like swiping an eraser across a chalkboard.
My ears are open to the sounds around me. Even without opening my eyes I’m conscious to it all.
I know that the dog is curled up in the kids’ room. I know my son is balled up in the fetal position in his bed, wrapped tightly in his Transformers blanket like it’s the middle of winter instead of the start of summer in Texas. My little girl is spread-eagle in her bed, a thin sheet twisted around her ankle, her arms raised above her head like she’s on a roller-coaster ride. Her mouth wide open. I know because I checked on them and in the last two hours that I’ve been lying here awake, I haven’t heard them move an inch. But that’s not what I should be thinking about right now, is it?
Four hours left…
Let’s try a new position. Rolling over in bed, I adjust the pillows around my head, fluff them a little. Straighten out the blanket. I turn up the fan that’s blowing cold air on my face, ready to make another go at this thing. Ready to slay the dragon. Ready to sleep. I focus on the darkened window. Shafts of light from the street lamps outside make lines across my bedroom walls and I focus on those lines. They make a track along my bed and as I focus on them, trying to avoid looking at the clock, I let my eyes drift shut.
Sleep, I tell myself, and almost immediately, another part of my brain picks up; neru, dormir…
Nope. Not gonna start that again. I quickly get a handle on my run-away thoughts, or at least I think I have, except another part of my head has started up an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’. It was probably all the Spanish. It’s the episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs at the Chocolate Factory. Lucy is trying to dip chocolate but really all she’s doing is making a mess. Her nose itches and so, left with no other alternative, she scratches and now she’s working with chocolate on her face. I remember watching all of these episodes as a kid. Hanging out with my grandma, eating popcorn. Lying in the bed now, it’s like I’m blown back to the past. Lucille Ball right in front of me in black and white except she’s in my head instead of on a screen. I feel my brain start to slow down just as Lucy and Ethel are working the conveyor belt. The chocolate balls are moving faster than the girls can wrap them and so they start shoving them in awkward places. In their mouths. In their shirts. In their hats. And I fall asleep to the sound of TV laughter.
The second my mind slips into the dream, I know I’m asleep. I know I’m dreaming. I always know. No matter what type of dream it is, I know it’s all in my head. That knowledge is my only saving grace whenever I have a nightmare. Luckily I only have those on nights I don’t drink… Unfortunately, this is one of those sober nights.
It’s a scream that finally frees me from the clutches of my nightmare. Chilling. Blood-curdling. Those aren’t good words to describe it. The sound shakes me. Makes my bones quake with fear. It seems to come from a place I’d call Hell if I believed in such a thing. Though my mouth is hangs agape, no sound comes from my throat, I am voiceless. My lungs empty as though I truly were in the midst of crying out and. I can hear the echoes in my head of what it would have been had my own gasping for air not cut off the sound.
Even though I’ve woken up, and I know I’m awake, I can’t move. My eyes stay shut, though I will them to open, and my body feels like it doesn’t quite belong to me. This is the hardest part, even though I should be used to it by now. My heart feels like it will pound out of my chest. I try to steady my breathing. I think of reaching for my inhaler but, right now, it’s not a possibility.
Relax, I tell myself and I don’t even mind when that other part of my brain whispers, ochitsuke.
I switch off the fan the second I’m able to move my arms and hands again, take a puff of that powder blue, medicated air. I don’t even mind the taste.
Time to reset, I tell myself after I take a few more deep breaths. Rearrange the pillows. Throw off the blanket. I listen to the world around me. The silence. My kids’ heavy breathing a room away from mine. Those familiar shafts of light lining my walls.
Two hours, I realize. I’ve got two hours left til my alarm clock goes off. In my head I weigh the pros and cons of trying to go back to sleep or just getting up and starting my day. A part of me sincerely considers running downstairs, downing a bottle, maybe taking a handful of pills. Anything to sleep, but I know it’s best not to. Even though I want to. I really, really want to. If it means getting even a few minutes of sleep. For just one night of uninterrupted sleep, I’d do almost anything. I have done almost anything.
My mind starts in on a trip down memory lane and now, somehow, it’s wandered into the realm of possibilities. It zips through scenario after scenario. Things that have already happened. Things that never will happen. Things that I would like to happen. Things that I would never want to happen. I recall watching an episode with my daughter of ‘My Little Pony’. Pinkie Pie was dreaming and, in her dream, she hopped from one scene to the next in a matter of seconds. As soon as her feet touched the ground she’d be off to the next thing. I feel that right now, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I’m Pinkie Pie.
Before I know it, my alarm chimes and it’s time to get up. I hit the snooze, then reconsider. ‘How badly do I really need to exercise?’ I reset the alarm giving myself two hours. If I’m not asleep in the next few minutes, I’ll give up.
I watch the light outside my window change from street lamps to sunlight as night officially turns to day. I’ve seen so many sunrises now, the novelty has completely worn off. Birds wake up in their nests in the tree just outside my window. They twitter to one another, chirping good morning and I hate those damned birds like I’ve never hated anything before.
Ten minutes. Ten minutes until my alarm clock goes off. I hear the kids in the next room. My daughter wakes up first, climbs down from the top bunk. I can hear the ladder creak beneath her miniscule weight. She gets about half the way down and jumps. The loud thump wakes up her brother almost immediately and I hear her tiny voice, “Ohayou, Ani!” Together, they race toward my room, the dog close on their heels.
When one day never really ends, how are you supposed to feel about starting a new one?
The kids jump into my bed and together they greet me with a bright ‘good morning’. I glance at my clock.
Three minutes, I realize. Three minutes until my alarm clock goes off.