Snoozing by Thad Zajdowicz | Flickr
I have no complaint. Boredom cannot survive variety. The self that I claim is a motley collection of mysteries, and for that, I'm grateful. But one aspect of my life is becoming more trouble than it's worth. Going to bed every night is the curse of my existence. I've had to endure this peculiar routine for 75 years. Half of my life's story has passed while I slept. Dreams are the singular products of this activity, but they vanish with the sunrise. It's hard to imagine a more efficient waste of time.
The bed itself is a raggedy pile of blankets, wadded-up sheets, messed-up pillows. A sight as welcoming as the sail locker in a sunken ship. Unconcerned with bed bugs, fleas, or skin lice, I lay down. Because it's warm, nothing exposed to the cold room but my face. My feet create a tent for my toes, relieving them of the weight of many old quilts. My pillow headrest completes the cockpit, primed for departure into dreamland. Holding still, I regulate my breathing, close my eyes, and sleep. Presumably, I am unconscious, dead to the world. I am not aware of myself. Then, a mysterious awareness of another world becomes a dream. Sometimes sharp and well-rendered, more often vague and indistinct.
A faint light appears, and I become conscious again. I rise to face another day. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I mull this interminable routine again. Yesterday I went through the same process. I spent 24 hours wide awake to manage a day's affairs. Then as night falls, it's back to bed. There's no choice. Mental acuity doesn't last long. Exhausted, I march upstairs and stand staring at a horrid mess. The sheer repetition astounds me. Every night it's the same thing. I transformed from a person to a zombie, dreaming nonsense, eyes flickering under closed lids.
It's morning again, and I wake up. Another day goes by, the sun goes down, and the nightmare repeats. I walk upstairs and look at the bed. That same damn bed that I have to climb into every night! When will it end? Is there no other way? Why do I have to go through this regimen every night? I don't understand the need. The human body shouldn't need to disengage every night to stay alive. It's preposterous! I will create a better solution. I will force myself to stay up all night for as many nights as possible. I'll train myself to go without sleep for days until I evolve to become the first human that doesn't need sleep. I'll monetize my discovery, write enlightening books, and improve humanity. Evolution is on my side. I'll transform myself into a sleepless creature, Like the ancient Galapagos tortoise.
My new strategy fills my mind. After considering a meal to regain my strength, the idea of a nap is tempting. So I avoid the couch in front of the TV. On the first night of my experiment, a bed is furthest from my mind. I will spend an evening on frivolous behavior. I'll get dressed and drive downtown to a fancy bar in a big hotel and order an expensive cocktail. A beautiful woman is sitting at the bar, and I order her a drink. She glances over and gives me a timid smile, and I move closer with all the grace I can manage. As a rule, women bring out my insecurity, but she doesn't seem to notice. We talk for an hour when she suggests we go to a different bar. Why not? We have all night. I pay the bill, and we go outside and flag a cab. It's dark; she's talking fast; I'm a little drunk, not sure where the night goes.
Soon, I am walking alone through the park in the middle of the night. I closed my eyes, but I was still on track with the experiment. Avoiding sleep is the final goal. I wander off the path into a clump of trees. I'll lean against a tree for a moment, not to sleep, mind you, a brief rest. Everyone gets tired sometimes; it won't hurt to take a quick break. I press my face against the rough bark and close my eyes. It feels good. All the excitement, the girls, the drinks, and cab rides drift from my mind. And I start to doze off. Fearful that I could fall asleep, I remind myself I am standing up. People don't sleep standing up, Giraffes, horses, but people have to lay down to sleep, I thought.
Then, somehow it's morning. A bicycle appears with a tinkling bell and wheels in my direction. A disheveled-looking rider stops and asks me if I have a cigarette. I tell him I don't smoke, and he asks if I have any cash. I apologize and tell him no, I'd spent it on a girl. He snarls and punches me in the face with such force to knock me to the ground!
I woke up with a start. My goodness, it was a dream! Where had I lost it? How could I fall asleep without knowing it? Damn. I have to pay closer attention to my experiment. How was I going to become sleepless if I kept falling asleep? My jaw was painful; I sat and looked at my feet. I'm sitting in a pile of leaves in the park. I must have fallen asleep leaning against the tree and then fallen.
Despite my painful awakening, it looks like a nice day. Squirrels are darting about; birds are chirping in the near distance. I crawled to a bolder and pulled myself to my knees. I doubted if I could stand. But I have to train my body against the temptation to sleep. Finally, I struggled to my feet. Wobbly, I moved in slow motion, first one foot, then the other, then I stopped. I couldn't walk another step. The path was fading, losing focus, My head hung, and I closed my eyes. Thinking that if I did fall asleep again, I would wake as I hit the ground.
Moments later, in the bright morning sunlight, I woke up. I opened my eyes and looked at the ground. I was lying on my stomach in the middle of a path. Gravel stuck in my face, and little girls were walking by. I tried to move my arm to push myself up, but my arm seemed broken. I groaned and rolled over on my side, and struggled to my knees. A homeless man stopped. He asked if I was okay, and of course, I said, yeah, great. He guided me over to a park bench. Sitting was like heaven; it was the best feeling I've ever felt. I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the pure restfulness of sitting down. The sun was warm, and I leaned over sideways till I was lying on the bench. I stretched out my sore legs and made myself as comfortable as possible, and closed my eyes for a moment.
The next thing I knew, I was walking down the path like a teenager. Passing an old lady feeding a pigeon, I called a friendly greeting. Walking along, carefully holding my broken arm, I came to a railroad crossing. Red lights were flashing as a crossing barrier lowered, but no train was in sight. A small girl darted under the wooden railing and trotted across the tracks. I thought, hell, I can do that. So I ducked under and started to walk across when I heard the train. Its whistle was blowing, and it was coming fast. My legs felt weak. Halfway across, I tripped as the train roared over me. I fell between the rails and tried to flatten myself and hold very still. The giant engine thundered with such noise and fury I thought I was dying. My eyes closed like fists, and I prayed to God to deliver me from hell. As the thing thundered over me spitting fire, I forced myself into the cinders and prepared to meet my maker. The monstrous, driving locomotive rushed overhead, car after car for miles. I was forcing myself into the cinders and gravel as low-hanging chains bit into my shoulder, and I winced in pain. I wasn't dead yet, but I didn't have long to live.
I woke up near a dumpster in some alley. Pain ranged over my whole body. My head ached, I was hungry, and a jagged piece of metal was sticking out of my leg. A bus stopped at the head of the alley, and several people formed a line. I struggled to my feet and waddled down to the corner, and managed to get on the bus. Somehow I found a seat without paying the fare. I nodded off as the bus trundled through the city.
I had no idea where it was going or where I was. I wasn't even sure where I lived. By some miracle, I found my building and fumbled in my pocket for a key. But I didn't need it; the front door was hanging open, ripped from its hinges by some strong wind. I crawled up the stairs and staggered down the hall to my bedroom.
There stood my bed, waiting for me. It looked like the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. The covers were all disarranged, and the pillows were on the floor. I fell into it like into the welcoming arms of a lover. I was home.
Then I woke up.
Tim Hildebrandt writes and makes pictures near the Great Lakes. He has published over a dozen short stories, some as far away as Amsterdam. He is well traveled and self-educated and still wonders why humans can’t imagine civilization.