Or maybe I should say “we don’t sleep”.
It first started happening when I was a child. I couldn’t ever switch my brain off. It was in permanent overdrive (except in math class). I would stay up late thinking about all sorts of things children shouldn’t spend time worrying about (like nuclear war, living so close to Washington DC and all). Later in life, I learned to sooth myself by reading books under the covers with a flashlight. My parents still talk about that. I would read until I felt my eyelids grow heavy. I still do that to this day, no longer with a flashlight (coupled with a melatonin pill). So you could say some good has come out of it. My reading goal is 51 books this year. I have a hunch I’ll surpass that. Naturally as an angsty teenager, this habit only grew in high school. I estimate that I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night when I was a teenager. I really worried myself to death then. Every day was such a daunting challenge of putting one foot in front of the other. This was probably the first time in my life that depression crept in like a cloud. I still believe I would have done better had school started at 8:30 instead of 7:20. Now at thirty something, I can actually get up at that 7:00am if need be and be useful (like today). Back then, there was zero point to me being anywhere before 9 am.
But it’s not just me. My Dad too. Our relationship blossomed when I was in high school. I felt like I didn’t understand him much of my childhood and then suddenly, I did. And much of it happened because often we’d sit up at 1:00 am watching re-runs of Northern Exposure (which had been cancelled). You’re looking for a show to watch next time you’re sick? That’s the one.
When this clip came up, it felt so utterly perfect. The line about reading under the covers? Pure coincidence. The Enya song (which I listened to a lot of at that age), madness.
Unfortunately Avery has it too. I remember a very frustrated new mother Aisha shaking her head close to tears whispering,
“She doesn’t sleep.”
I assured her it was just because she was a newborn but at three years old, it goes a little deeper than that. Right now I average about seven hours most nights, but I have to force myself. I usually can’t sleep more than eight. Dad though? I just don’t know. I worry though because at his age, he needs more. Part of it seems hereditary but most of it seems like neither of us can ever get comfortable enough with the state of the world to sleep soundly (and sometimes I wish to hell we could). But once the world is illuminated to you in such a way, nothing can quiet the mind.
Tonight I wished him well as he was wandering off to bed. I said,
“Please try and get some rest.”
“I will. But it’s really tough.”
“I know. I of all people know.”
(Gorgeous illustration by Leigh Viner).