The usual squeak of the third stair gave me enough notice to put my phone on the bedside table before Frank came in.
“Did you read tonight, like I suggested?” he asked. I had beaten him to the bedroom by an hour with an eye toward getting a head start on some shut-eye, but no, I did not read – not a book, anyway, which is what he meant.
“Yes,” I lied, looking at the ceiling, hands clasped behind my head on the pillow. I had checked Instagram to see what people I hated were up to and read what anonymous strangers on Reddit thought about the latest season of ‘Real Housewives’.
“Well, I hope you can sleep. We have that thing tomorrow,” he said, placing his glasses on the bedside table and sliding under the sheets.
“I hope so too,” I replied. Of course, the thing. I refrained from asking what it was because I had doubtless been told several times.
“And you're always so grumpy when you don’t sleep well,” he added, turning his back to me.
I wanted to say that my recent sleep troubles weren't my fault, that he should stop nagging me. The issue had begun recently, perhaps due to the circadian shifts around the winter solstice, not long enough for Frank to empathetically consider it a sickness, a biological issue. He seemed to think the fault lay within me, as if there were some internal switch somewhere I could and should be turning off but cannot find.
Unsure if he was right or not, what I said was: “I’ll do my best.”
We conferred our love for each other and said goodnight. He turned out the light and I closed my eyes to enter the dark within the dark.
I blinked, saw the glowing numbers of my bedside clock: 2:18 a.m. I closed my eyes and tried again.
What did my mom always say to do? Count backwards from 100.
Wait, what? Start over.
"Don’t mind me while I’m tackling this void; slide tackling my mind."
Earworm. That song, “Slide Tackle” by Japanese Breakfast. Did I hear it today?
What was I doing? Oh, right, not sleeping.
This is just ‘counting sheep,’ isn't it? Or do you count forward when you count sheep? I wonder where that practice originated, ‘counting sheep’. Are there unique implementations across cultures, like it’s some innate human technique used to fall asleep since time immemorial?
Probably a Western thing. Did Native Americans have sheep? No. But the Incas had alpacas. Did they count alpacas?
It would be so cool to have some alpacas. We could buy that farmland that’s been up for sale for years next to Frank’s parents’ place and build a little barn. We could get a couple of sheepdogs (alpaca-dogs; do they even need herding?) and Frank could knit the wool, make me a poncho. I’d traverse the fields and hills wielding a mighty staff and wearing my poncho, watching over my beautiful, communally defecating alpacas. How magnificent!
What a life. Way better than this shit.
Did I ever email back Greg about those labor productivity standard numbers from the eastern region?
My eyes opened again, already fixated on the clock: 2:24 a.m. I closed them.
Counting sheep. What’s that sci-fi novel, something like that? ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’? Never read it. I wonder if robots count electric sheep when they’re trying to sleep. Surely robots don’t need to sleep, right? Or at least, they don’t need to dream. Although I saw on TikTok the other day something about how REM sleep is important to learning and information processing for us humans. So maybe robots will have to do something like dreaming someday when they themselves start falling in love and watching ‘Real Housewives’ and TikToks. At least a robot can throw a switch to fall asleep, perhaps literally. They probably don’t need to count anything.
Philip K. Dick wrote that novel, I think that’s the one that inspired "Blade Runner." I haven’t seen the original, but I enjoyed the Ryan Gosling sequel from a few years back, mostly because Ryan Gosling did not talk much. I prefer Gosling when he's silent and brooding. The more he talks, the less I like his performance. Best performance: ‘Drive’. Worst: ‘The Big Short’.
Somewhere in between is ‘La La Land,’ which, despite perhaps a mediocre (in my view) performance from him, is still a good movie. Emma Stone makes up for it. It’s amazing how her career went from ‘Seth, I want to blow you’, to stuff like ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Help.’
I only like ‘La La Land’ because I’m not from L.A., or so I’ve been told. Not like Frank, who is from L.A. and for whom the Griffith Observatory is a hackneyed cultural touchstone and not some mythical monument. Not like Frank, for whom L.A. is a place of crushed and broken dreams. Not like Frank, who actually did drive a Prius.
Frank. The silent and brooding type.
I rolled away from the alarm clock and opened my eyes to see his hairy back across from me in the half-light that seeped in from the streetlight outside, light that was perhaps contributing to my insomnia. Maybe we needed new curtains. I touched him, felt his breathing. There was no danger in waking him; he was like a well-fed bear in hibernation.
He can’t understand that there is no switch. He’s someone whose thoughts just whisper out his ears like air from a balloon's anus, while mine get all jumbled up, crashing into each other, creating new thoughts.
I hope he didn’t cancel our subscription to HBO Max yet. I want to see that new Emma Stone movie.
I sighed and rolled back over: 2:28 a.m.
Only four and a half hours left until wake-up time. Not a chance at all I’m not dead tomorrow. I’m always fine in the morning; it’s not until later, like when we go to the thing, that I will feel it.
Fuck. I am so fucked.
What about sleeping pills? I know what Frank would say to that: they lead to addiction. Maybe he is right, but right now, I am addicted to not sleeping, which may be worse.
Let’s try again:
"Don’t mind me while I’m tackling this void; slide tackling my mind."
I blinked, and it was 3 a.m. Blinked again, and it was 4:30 a.m. Then the alarm.
It’s hard to know how much I slept between those blinks.
We went to the thing, and I was miserable. It felt like my whole brain was vibrating on a frequency in discordance with the rest of the world, like I was hungover without the alcohol and the headache. They say alcohol affects your sleep, and most of us stay up late when we binge drink anyway, so maybe half of all hangovers are just lack of sleep.
Of course, when the time came to get horizontal again, the vibrations would dissipate and give way to the low hum of my thoughts, sated in the darkness and content to continue in the dearth of stimuli afforded by the inside of my eyelids.
“I got you that Kindle and you never use it,” said Frank as we crawled into bed again. He was forgiving of my behavior at the thing because he loved me.
I eventually picked up the Kindle and downloaded Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I figured if I was going to be awake all night, I might as well further my cultural knowledge. The soft glow of the Kindle let me read even after Frank turned out the light and did his usual impression of a narcoleptic.
With each paragraph, my eyes grew heavier, my brain more tired, as if reading were some heavy lift I never knew it to be. I put the Kindle down and looked at the clock before closing my eyes: 12:15 a.m. Humans might not dream of electric sheep, but now we read electronic books to sleep.
Here we go again…
"This weight feels like I’m wrestling with my head; Obsessing in the dark."
Off to la la land.
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BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS:
What do you think about when you can’t sleep?
Is there anything you do before bed that helps you sleep besides reading?
thanks for reading PNP, I hope you sleep well tonight. this post was NOT sponsored by Amazon, unfortunately. if you liked this story, you might also like these: