So I was in Denver last week, although it already feels like months ago.  I dusted off my academic-lady hat and went off to a conference, where I convened with some wonderfully smart women, talked about books, feminist theory, and how to subvert literary history. Heh. Those are the sorts of hijinks you get when academics get together. (There may also have been cocktails.)

My aunt lives in Denver, too, so in addition to seeing my academic friends, I had a great visit with my aunt, who is also my godmother; and my mom, bless her, flew from Indiana to Denver to join us. We went for a long hike in the foothills around Denver, had rambling conversations about life and family, and a lot of laughter. (There may also have been cocktails.)

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Three days in a new city, three days of solo time without having to think about who had to be driven to the soccer football field when, and four nights in a hotel bed that I hope is waiting for me in heaven: ironed sheets, every kind of pillow a person could want, a perfect quilt.  The room was dark and quiet, not too hot, not too cold.

And every night, my eyes snapped open… 2:30AM,  3:00AM, 4:00AM.


If there’s anything more maddening than insomnia itself, it’s having insomnia in a place perfectly designed for sleeping. I mean, what a waste of money, to have insomnia in that beautiful hotel room. I might as well have been staying at the Motel 6 over by the railroad tracks.

Insomnia.  Some people swear by Ambien, but I don’t have Ambien and frankly, I’m a little afraid of the whole sleeping pill thing.  My cookie-eating problem would suggest that I have addictive tendencies, so opiates are probably not a good idea.

So there I am, wide awake, on those smooth sheets with all those pillows, and alone in the bed because Husband is back here in Abu Dhabi driving back and forth to the football pitch.  And that’s a good thing, too, because you know what takes a real toll on a marriage?

Being the insomniac awake in the middle of the damn night while someone snores blissfully oblivious next to you. Sleeping! While you’re  NOTSLEEPING.

More than once, when insomnia comes creeping around to my side of the bed, I’ve looked over at Husband and thought, “maybe if I only smother him a little bit, he’ll wake up, and then we can be awake and miserable together.”  Because, you know, we’re married. So aren’t we all flesh of our flesh? Mi insomnia est su insomnia? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

The killer about insomnia is looking at the clock. Never look at the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. And now it’s…2:47AM. 2:53AM. 3:15AM. Tick. Tick. Tick. So I say to myself don’t look at the clock don’t look at the clock don’t look at the clock don’t look…3:37AM.

Or I try the little yoga game, you know, a little breathing exercise. I say hey relax, it’s okay, just concentrate on the breath, yep, just in and out, in and out, breathe, don’t stress about falling asleep, just relax HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO BE AWAKE IN THREE HOURS AND I’M NOT ASLEEP YET…don’t look at the clock don’t look at the clock don’t look at the clock…4:00AM.

Then the gerbil wheels start whirling–and that’s when it gets really fun there in my wakeful head. Because isn’t the middle of the night the absolutely best time to contemplate life goals, unfinished projects, and anxieties about one’s children? Those dark hours are when I’m convinced that I’ll never write another word, that Caleb’s newly acquired glasses are a precursor to childhood glaucoma, that Liam’s perfectionism will lead him to a adolescent psychosis, the little splotch on my arm is skin cancer, Mitt Romney will win the election and we’ll never be able to return to the US…the voices get louder and louder, round and round, until sometimes to shut them up, I sit up in the dark and scribble the gerbil-wheel anxieties on a notepad.  Scribbling doesn’t really help make the gerbil voices be quiet, but I tell myself it helps. “There,” I say. “Now you don’t have to think about these things, so you can go to sleep.”

But I can’t go to sleep. That’s the whole damn problem. And telling myself to go to sleep just makes it worse. Because then I get anxious about the fact that I’m not sleeping, and I’m not sleeping because I’m anxious, and I’m anxious because I’m not sleeping.4:15AM don’tlookatheclockdon’tlookattheclockSometimes if I’m lucky, I’ll finally catch a little catnap in that 4:30-6:30 slot, always the darkest, coldest hours of the night, even in Abu Dhabi.

And then when the alarm goes off, my eyes are raw, my body aches, my brain seems smothered in gerbil droppings and cotton wool. It’s that raw feeling I associate with the early days of parenthood, when the entire world seems like a movie that’s gotten out of kilter with its soundtrack: lips are moving but the wrong sounds are emerging.

After two nights on the gerbil wheel, I could barely talk, and my aunt – herself a veteran insomniac, as is my mom, and oh goodie, isn’t that a fun family trait to share, like brown hair and a love of cheese – my aunt took pity on me.

Sonata, she said, but she wasn’t talking about music. She was talking about little pills, which she swears are not habit-forming. You pop one after the insomnia monster has crawled into your bed, and within about a half-hour, you fall asleep. I didn’t believe her, and then on night three of the 3:00AM gerbil wheel, I caved. Swallowed the little blue pill and lay there, waiting. “This doesn’t work,” I thought to myself.

And then it was morning. If Denver is a nice city on almost no sleep, let me tell you that after a full night’s sleep? It’s amazing.

My farewell gift from my godmother was an envelope of little blue-and-green pills–just a few, just in case. I’ve not touched them since that night in Denver, and so maybe it’s just the mind-trick of knowing they’re there now, in the night-stand next to the bed that’s helping me sleep.

But I keep the Sonatas there. Just in case.