Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shadows on the Wall

Last night I couldn't sleep, as usual. I was haunted by yet another phantom of my past. Instead of the usual once-boyfriend phantom or the stinging-reply-in-hindsight phantom, or even the what-am-I-going-to-do-tomorrow phantom, it was one whose mere presence was almost ironic.

It was the phantom of my first insomnia.

I was four or five, a young girl still trying to understand the natural world. I was just beginning to understand that objects left unsupported fell. I was fascinated by my shadow in the sunset, that I was taller than my giant father. I also noticed that things looked different in the dark. That colors were still there, but instead of being green, torquoise, and gold they varied in shades of black.

I lay awake in my bed, in the middle of my once blue, now dust colored room. The venetian blinds covering the window were cracked just enough to let the streetlamp's light in from across the deserted street. The stripes gashed across my wall; vibrant, fresh. I reached out a hand to feel the line of contrast, to touch the bleeding light and the lifeless wall.

I was almost surprised to see that I could never touch the light. I couldn't place my fingers on it, there was always a shadow beneath them. I couldn't touch the light, but it could touch me. I lifted my arm higher along the wall, admiring the straight lines cast across my skin and the wall alike. I lay back in bed, my arm still above my head and above the windowsill, the light and shadow still caressing me. I marveled that its touch was nonexistent, but the zebra stripe glove on my skin was as real as the arm shaped shadow interrupting the stripe pattern on the wall behind it.

The stripes would shift position as I did, making the glove as long or as short as I pleased, but however I moved it the stripes never changed shape or angle, the glove always fitting as gloves should.

The next night I was still fascinated by the combination of the streetlight and the blinds across my window. I was for a week, until I realized that I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. By that time it was too late, I was an insomniac. I was too fascinated by the curiosities of a dark bedroom.

I can still remember that night, a week later, as I was playing with my zebra glove. “If only I could just take a nap. A nap would be great. I'm so tired, but I don't want to sleep, I just want to nap.” It was then that I realized something else: When you napped you slept, and neither would be easy for me ever again.

Fifteen years later it's still hard for me to sleep, nap or doze. But it's not often that something as simple as the shadow cast on my wall is the one thing that keeps me up at night. I realized that night, that this was the first time I'd slept under venetian blinds in five years. I was almost glad to have reconnected with my childhood, even though it meant another night of less-than-stellar sleep.