Sheepless

My hands are locked up tight in fists
My mind is racing filled with lists
Of things to do and things I’ve done
Another sleepless night’s begun

~ Barenaked Ladies ~ “Who Needs Sleep”

Insomnia is a bitch. She creeps up on me most nights, curling her long, cold fingers around the root stem of my brain. I try to fight her off, using all of my Ninja skills: deep breathing, happy places, self-hypnosis. If I know I am winning then all is lost. Mid-yawn, my body insists on gasping for more air. I hold my breath and hope for the best.

The fluffy bunnies, running on the wheels inside my head, Chug! Chug! Chug! their Red Bull and power up the mental generator. The inner screen flickers to life; it’s time to start the show. My worst moments of the day run on continuous loop. There is only one way to stop the horror: my eyes snap open. I am wide awake now. The sleepless witch pokes and prods me; I feel every ache and pain as if it were a new wound. I am too stubborn, or perhaps too stupid, to take anything stronger than a handful of NSAIDs. I struggle to remain silent. My bed is not empty tonight and he needs his sleep. Slipping out from the warmth of body and blankets, I steal his bathrobe and sneak away.

Something will amuse me, somewhere. I scan the Internet, read my e-mail, and wonder why no one else is updating at this late (or is it early) hour. The television gives me nothing but infomercials and bad porn. I am interested in neither. However, the sound of a human voice is comforting, lulling. I leave the garbage on. It is with supreme effort that I do not turn to my video game. I am not that pathetic. The sexcapade is still on; people are making animal noises. I have my own bathroom down here in the basement. The potential release of a languorous bath springs unbidden to the surface of my thoughts. If only I had some bubble soap and knew where my towel was.

I realize I am lonely, alone with only my thoughts. I surf the channels from cries of passion to lies of fashion, settling on QVC. There are not enough hours between now and morning to take a drink or pop a pill, so I will stay awake until bedtime comes around again. I pull my laptop desk to me. I write the rant I won’t post, with gripes about people I don’t know and defenses of the ones I do. I listen to the voice in my head who warns me I might want to rethink being online. I give in, and I turn on my game. After a while, I watch a virtual sun rise in real time. I prepare to head upstairs to greet the new day.

He will ask me, “Did you sleep ok?” He knows that if I go too many nights without good sleep we are both screwed. My moods are so brittle, I can flip from the safety and security of what passes as normal to something far more dangerous with the loss of only one night. Slumber is my strength, and my salvation. Take that away from me, and soon all is lost.

“No, but I will be fine,” I’ll tell him. And I will be, eventually. Meanwhile, the muses sing to me in their songs of color and light. Their words dance like inverted fireflies on my screen. The annoying twin sisters of nightmare and fantasy will have to wait another day before we three meet between the sheets, while their bastard cousin hallucination plays gentleman-caller. The lich insomnia has failed at sucking the life out of me tonight. On the contrary, she has shown me a new, beautiful, and deadly truth: I could stay awake forever, if forever felt this good. G-d help me when the end of forever comes. It is going to hurt like hell.

Waterfall

I lift my head from my chest and rub my gummy eyes. The undersized television flickers some late-night talk show, the audio mute, and barely illuminates the room. I thumb the off switch of the remote and the screen goes dark, but not the space. An array of blue and green and red indicator lights shine on, casting ghastly shadows through the mass of gadgets and wires in my entertainment center. I close my eyes, but the colors continue to glow, to pulse, to burst in a shower of sparks against the backdrop of my eyelids. It is my own private fireworks show, exploding suns I dare not touch.

* * *

I’ve missed my medications, quite accidentally, three days in a row now. The first night I simply forgot. The second night I fell asleep on the couch and forgot in the morning. Tonight, I fell asleep on the couch again, waking up at this odd time, in this odd mind, with this odd rhyme winding its way through me.

* * *

I stumble up the stairs, through the dark. The hardwood floors are cold beneath my feet. In the master bedroom, I avoid the harsh glare of the room lights and make my way by memory to the master bathroom. A single Indiglow nightlight, soft and soothing, does nothing to banish the shadows from the corners of the room, but it is enough at the vanity to find the hated little plastic containers. I count out my pills blindly, two and two and one and one, matching the shape of each to its function: control my flights into madness, take charge of my mood, slow down the tremors, let me sleep. Their taste is bitter in my mouth.

Slipping free from clothes that stink of two days’ continuous wear, I turn on the shower and step in. Too-hot-water scalds my skin; I stand here, in the blackness, and cry.

* * *

Shower finished, I slide open the door and shiver in the contrasting cold. I grope for the clean towel I know hangs somewhere beyond, wrap it around my shaking body, and slide my still-wet self between the sheets of the empty bed to sleep. My last thoughts, as I drift away on the waves of chemically-forced slumber, are of sea walls and ocean swells. A woman, yearning to be free of this life, leaps from one to the other. She slowly slips beneath the water with me.

Lessons

“I really like you, Amy. Don’t ever marry my son.” With that, my future father-in-law Merrill Jr, his bourbon and soda in hand, shook his eldest son’s hand and left the room. Merrill Jr’s wife Laura* apologized for his brusqueness, gave me a hug, and escorted us to the door. As “meet the parents” adventures went, it was the most odd I had ever had.

I really should have paid more attention.

Merrill (the third)’s younger brother Jack introduced us in January, 1986. At the time, Jack was in a serious relationship with his planned-to-be-fiancée. Meanwhile, I was spending a great deal of my free time trying to seduce him. To get rid of me, Jack pawned me off on his older brother with firm instructions: “dip your wick and drop her.”

From our first date, Merrill and I were inseparable. I didn’t recognize it then, but I was a nineteen-year-old woman in a full-blown manic state – the perfect girlfriend. My only goals in life were sex, money, good food, and shopping. I went to my job because it was a paycheck; it got no effort. Merrill was eight years older than me, adored the sex, adored my energy, adored me. He would cook me these elaborate main dishes instead of taking me out to dinner. I moved in with him almost immediately. My mood quickly plummeted, but it was ok. He took care of me. He was needed. Round and round the relationship went.

Seven months later I was fired, hired, married and pregnant. Within weeks I was thinking divorce.

My new husband had a small problem with anger management. Ok, “small” isn’t the right word for it. Once he accidentally locked himself out of our new apartment. Rather than call me at work, or even call the building manager, he punched the door down. Places that we lived in always had holey walls.

Merrill also suffered from a severe case of irrational jealousy. I was a natural flirt in an up mood; this was long before my diagnosis and I simply went where my passions dictated. I was faithful to him to the very end, not that he believed it. He was still convinced I was out fucking everyone from one of his brothers to the maintenance men I worked with.

The first time he was physically violent with me, I was out with my coworkers after a particularly bad day at the insurance company where I worked. Merrill stormed in, ranting about how no wife of his was going be a slut. He grabbed me and yanked me out of the booth (spilling my beer). Still ranting, he pulled me out of the bar, out into the street. I was dragged all the way back to our apartment, nearly half a mile away. Our relationship was less than ideal after that.

We’d had one child, a beautiful son I named after a college sweetheart what my Mom would have originally named me. I changed jobs again, making (for the time and my education) gobs of money. I started making my plans to leave; I knew I could make it on my own, even as a single mother.

Having been denied admission to the Master’s in English program at the local university, Merrill decided he wanted another child. He needed to be needed; he needed to be loved unconditionally and he’d burned his bridges with me.

He said he didn’t have to use protection. He called it my “wifely duty.” He said it was his right.

I slept on the sofa after that. A few weeks passed; I knew I was pregnant without the pee-stick. Faced with the decision, I choose to keep my wonderful second son, whom I named for myself (the ultimate in hubris, I knew). I also insisted on permanent sterilization. I was 23 years old and I never wanted to choose again. There would be no Merrill (the fourth) from me.

It was more than a year after my second son’s birth before I was finally free of that marriage. Along the way I lost my job again, went back to school (his idea), and met someone new. I eventually learned that loving someone didn’t have to mean jealous rages and damaged goods. I still have a lot more to learn about loving myself.

I don’t ask victims of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse why they stay, why they don’t just get out. I know it’s far more complicated than that. Sometimes loving someone means never saying “I quit” even when that’s the only way to survive. It means never saying “I hate you for that” even when it’s true.

Loving someone means never saying “you were right” when you talk to your future ex-father-in-law at that last family dinner.

*some names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Couching

“Just a moment, please. I seem to have filed your chart again.”

In the year or so since I began visiting Dr Frank, only once had she remembered to pull my file before my scheduled appointment with her. I sat on the edge of the couch, my right leg a blur of nervous energy, and looked around the cluttered office. She had been to the library recently. I reached to take one of the books when Dr Frank walked back in. I snapped my hand back into my lap.

My psychiatrist pulled a sheet of pre-punched yellow note paper from the pile on her desk and slipped it into the chart on her lap. “So tell me, Amy, how has the last month been?” Pen poised to take notes, she looked at me expectantly.

“We closed on the house.” She nodded. “I had a few down days.” She scribbled something. “I mean really down days, like I probably should have called you but I talked to my friends instead down days.”

Dr Frank looked up from her notes. “As bad as last month?”

“Well,” I started, “I have had worse days. Like, if I was going to put them on that scale of one to five with one being I am hardly bothered by the thoughts and five means I should have called an ambulance already, then we are talking threes and fours. Lately.”

“I am really concerned, Amy, that you didn’t call me.” She wrote several more things in her chart. “Is the light therapy working for you?”

After a year, I’d learned that what she wrote down in my chart and what we actually talked about in session were very different things.

“I don’t use light therapy, remember?”

“Did you sell your light then?”

“No. You loaned me yours and it had no effect.” I tried to sound patient. “I gave it back months ago.”

“Oh, that’s right. And I can see you are not having any luck with your weight. That must be so frustrating.” Dr Frank was often so tactful. “Is that why you are depressed all the time?”

“No. And I am not depressed all the time. I am depressed twice a month. I have a really neat sine wave, if you want to see it, on my mood chart.” She waved her hands. “Well, I thought it was neat,” I muttered.

“I am really quite concerned about your ongoing depression, Amy. Especially that you are still having these suicidal thoughts. I think…”

I interrupted her, “I didn’t call you because it’s not what you think. I mean, yes, I feel that bad and yes, I have those damn thoughts in my head. But I can finally call on my friends for help now, when I need to. I even know how to, well, reboot my brain. To get it to stop spinning round and round in places I don’t want it to go. All those years of cognitive therapy have taught me it isn’t what you think, but how you think it that is important.”

Dr Frank looked at me as though I were nuts, as I went into mini-manic-mode: my arms gesturing, my legs bouncing, my words racing and tumbling about; all the while I explained how I rebooted my brain to break a major depressive episode. Eventually, I regained some measure of control.

“You know, there is some scientific evidence to back you up on that.” Dr Frank made a couple more notations on that yellow paper. “I still want to adjust your medications, but would you mind meeting with a student next month? I think they could learn something from you.”

I nodded, and pulled out my Treo to check for an open calendar appointment. I could put up with her idiosyncrasies for another month, if she could put up with mine.

Left Behind

Over the weekend, my partner and I decided that, as much as we loved the penthouse condominium with the hardwood floors, the private park, the rooftop pools, and the gorgeous grocery store, we just could not work the deal the sellers wanted.

This morning, I walked over to the sales office with a letter explaining why we were leaving the deal behind. The sign on the door said the office would be open at 11:00am. With 45 minutes to kill, I bought a cup of coffee and a blank notebook. That was when I realized there were no benches on that section of 5th Street.

I tucked the empty notebook into my bag and went for a walk.

The transition between the new building and the surrounding neighborhood was harsh, abrupt. One minute I was walking on a new, clean sidewalk paved with pretty red bricks. The next minute I was on dirty cement, cracked and worn, with human detritus everywhere. I considered spinning on my heels and going back the way I came, but someone had suggested I look at my errands today as an adventure.

I kept walking.

I started to keep a list of the things I saw as I walked: empty liquor bottle, cigarette butts, soda cans, a plastic grocery bag, a half-full bottle of window cleaner, a box of Steak-Ums being guarded by a starling, cardboard boxes…

I realized I was not paying attention to where I was going. I lifted my head and saw that I was being watched from a police car. I stepped up my pace and headed back toward the condo building, my goal the sales office.

I was nearly there when a small sound, reminiscent of my phone, caught my attention.

A real, rather than recorded, “chirp-chirp” came from a small bird, on a branch, near my head. I watched, amused, as it swooped down into the sparsely planted ornamental grasses at the base of the sapling. An odd shade of orange caught my eye. Thanking the Wii Fit for my new-found stability, I squatted down for a closer look.

Someone had planted candy corn in with the grass and trees.

I laughed, though not loud enough to attract the attention of the contractors putting the finishing touches on the building we are not moving into. Even though it was well after 11, the sales office was still closed. I saw the agent I needed to work with through the front window. Impatient, I walked in anyway and talked to her. My errand completed, I headed back to my apartment.

I found myself cataloging again the odd things I saw along the way: a used condom, a car-crushed Barbie doll, two feral cats, a homeless man wrapped in clear plastic…

My partner and I decided we are going to move out of the city, away from this environment. I don’t like turning a blind eye to the things, mislaid, misplaced, or just plain left behind by someone else. It bothers me that I didn’t pick up the trash, that I simply took photos of it. I am no longer comfortable walking from island to island of cleanliness through a sea of human garbage.

Although, I do like the candy corn planted among the ornamental grass. I hope it grows.