A simple thing as sleep. According to arithmetical wisdom, I’ve had about 25 years of it, give or take some nightmares and naps. Enough practice to get it right. But I did better early on.
The records will show I had no trouble as a baby. I sucked and wet and whimpered like any normal over-protected cry baby. I have no memory of worrying in the crib about the hard times. I slept through dust storms and breadlines.
Even as a good-for-nothing kid I didn’t stay up all night twisting and turning over Friday’s tests. Nor did I lose sleep wondering how I would ever get by in this world pimply, bashful and klutzy as I was. I could always count on the mattress to carry me away.
In the twilight of my pharmacy days I had some fitful nights re-filling every Rx from the day before, in my head. Not a prescription for easeful sleep and when I nod off it is straight into my recurrent dream in which I'm alone behind the counter during an epidemic, like Chaplin on the assembly line, never quite catching up. Phones ringing, babies crying, computer jammed. Did I just give Bert Martinson’s cough syrup to Marty Bertleson? or dispense Vytorin instead of Vicodin ? With sleep like this I’d rather wake up.
Why does it come unbidden in dark theaters? If that’s a melatonin rush, where have you gone, melatonin, when I need you? Where is my inner Chopin and his nocturne? I can carpe my diem but night cannot be seized.
Now in retirement I have forgotten how to do it. First close your eyes, then empty your mind. But my mind is already vacant. Ten minutes ago I was practically falling asleep on the couch. Somewhere between the living room and bedroom I lost my tiredness. I must remember not to brush my teeth or maybe brush three hours earlier. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. My itches are amplified. I’m losing some blanket. Why is that helicopter hovering? There goes a radio from across the street, a car alarm half mile away, a controversy of crows reclaiming whose woods these were.
I turn the pillow to the cool side. Try a Gummy Bear. Think about something soothing but boring, like a wheat field blowing in a summer breeze or petals falling from a cherry blossom tree. Or I might revert to my warehouse of sports trivia usually reserved for an MRI, like naming the Brooklyn Dodger team from 1941.
Come to think of it, maybe I have been asleep. It’s now 1:57 and two minutes ago it was 1:15. I must be awake and asleep at the same time. Now I can feel myself adrift but I have to pee. At least it feels like I do but I know it’s just my enlarged prostate. So get and go you fool. No, don’t go, you’re finally nodding off. Go! Stay! How can I sleep with all this interior noise?
Near-sleep has got to be worth something. I call it severe rest and have assigned it a value of 30%. If I sleep five hours and stay in this semi-state for three I claim six hours of sleep. But who’s counting?
Could this be the famous lunar pull getting its revenge on me for not honoring its sabbatical in retrograde? Or perhaps I’ve just used up my sleep quotient and I’m doomed to stand sentinel for the slumbering planet.
I have my own essential dreams yet to be dreamt. Sleep, you genius of montage, take me. I’ll get my gossamer wings from the closet. Launch me weightless to nightly lunacy where all my shards can be re-assembled in a coded collage, too important to be left to waking hours.