Sleep isn’t an activity that seems to readily come to me any more. It’s funny, I hadn’t ever had the problem on my own. I spent an inordinate amount of time in exhaustion, dying to close my eyes, only to have them forced open and remain awake because the sake of my marriage counted on it.
Years ago, when Andrea first attended Pharmacy school, I had changed jobs for my own health, both mental and physical. Andrea wanted this and I was supporting her on it, whether or not deep down I agreed with the cost, wear and tear on our family and marriage and relationship with both our parents. I couldn’t stay in my job, though, it was a lot of work, lot of hours and very, very little money. I’d just become a Dad for the first time and in my heart I knew there was no way I could keep working for an insurance company without watching my soul get sucked into hell piece by piece.
So my way to make ends meet was going back to my very first TV station, at my same job but only for half the hours and not much better pay. I still had to eat and there were no loans at that time to pay for the school or our food. So I delivered newspapers, believe it or not. I was that guy you saw, creepy, covered head to toe in coats, torn up gloves, covered in ink and dirt and driving at a creepily slow speed through your neighborhood at 3am. I did this job, worked my behind off, got home, showered, went to the day job, worked, then came home. I wanted desperately to fall asleep by 7 or 8pm only to have Andrea angry, to the point of yelling at me for falling asleep. This was cause for a number of arguments because I was doing the only thing I could – the job I had a degree in. To make up for the lack of extra income from her I was doing this horrible job. I grew to feel nauseous from the scent of newspaper ink. Where Andrea wanted company and got to go to school, live the college life all over again I was taking a beating on my body, mind and heart.
I’d try to stay awake, but part of me was just so angry that she wouldn’t leave it alone, not for a couple days even. I know she loved me and just wanted the company, but part of me was so stressed because I was supporting her decision, but it was her decision. I wasn’t consulted, one day she wanted to go to school and before we could even have the discussion she’d registered and had the classes lined up and the check written as if we’d come to a joint conclusion already. I wasn’t going to leave her faltering but I wasn’t always happy when she went on a pharmacy retreat and I couldn’t stay awake. Even when I left the newspapers I was an overnight editor and photographer doing the same hours. My life was very hard at that point and my relationship with my brother, parents and even now my wife was very strained.
But now I don’t have a work reason. I reflect on those days. I think about the sleepless nights when we first met and miss those. I think about the sleepless nights during her doctoral days and I wish I’d just taken the time and slept on the weekends. My mind races so much that sleep doesn’t come easily, if at all. I know that’s not smart nor healthy, but understanding the problem is the first step, I’m sure.
When I finally hit the pillow I am out cold. I don’t remember my dreams – if I have them – and I don’t hear anything. I must be snoring because many nights I awaken in a near panic because I’ve either tweaked my back a little or I’m so tensed up my body is a mass of sore muscles by morning. I lie awake thinking about the fact that I can’t lie down without seeing the empty side of the bed if I face one way. Face the other and I can’t feel the warmth, the depression in the mattress, the feel of her breath. Some days I miss her presence. Some days I simply miss the company and companionship.
The problem with that lack of REM sleep is that I also miss if something or someone is sneaking by my room or having their own problems. My son Noah is facing that now. At 4am sometimes I’ll awaken to find a noise or presence downstairs and he’s already dressed, ready for school, waiting down there for everyone else to wake up even though it’s an hour or two more for me to come down to him. I prod him back to bed but know that he’s back down there as soon as he knows I’ve hit the pillow.
But I get it. He’s making sure. While Noah was the spiritual one of our family – telling us how much he his Mom in his heart, telling us how she knows we’ll be OK, how Moms are the ones that give us more people so they get the biggest part of our hearts – he’s also a very sweet and emotional little boy as well. He gets a lot of abuse and criticism for being a bit selfish and wanting to be the center of attention. But the days when he screams or throws a tantrum – things he normally did to his Mom to try and get his way – those are gone. He has anger problems occasionally, but they burst and he cries, not screaming, not violently thrashing. He has his moment and has to try and find a way to come back down.
Now he doesn’t sleep. I don’t chastise or punish him for the hours he’s choosing to be awake. I know why he’s doing it even if he doesn’t. I know because I can see him as he passes by my room when I cannot sleep. I see him look into his sister’s room, then come into mine to check on me. He goes down and looks into his older sister, Abbi’s room to see if she’s sleeping, I can hear him try to silently open the door. Then he goes in the living room and either picks up his Nintendo Game Boy, or – most often – lies down on the pillow and naps until we come down and join him.
It’s not something he wants to do, I can tell. But when he wakes up and it’s that strange time, 4-5am just before you need to get up, he can’t help it. He lost his Mom, the woman he abused, treated horribly and screamed tantrums at until he got his way most days. The woman he forced to call me because she didn’t think she could handle his whining and crying. You know, he was a kid. A normal, everyday toddler who does those things.
When I see him this way I find him there on the couch and I give him a hug. I put his head on my shoulder and tell him “I love you, Monkey.” He usually is asleep and doesn’t answer, but I pick him up, and occasionally, when he’s been only lightly dozing, he stirs as I walk up the stairs and I hear it in my ear:
“Luv you Daddy…”
I don’t put him back to his bed. I put him in the other side of mine. The place his Mom slept, the empty vastness that lies before me every night.
I gently pat his head, kiss his forehead . . . and hoping beyond hope I can recapture a few more minutes of rest…lay me down to sleep.