BY IVY ILYES
The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia as “a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.” I have never really had an issue with staying asleep. Once I fall asleep, I rarely wake up in the night and I struggle to get up early without the assistance of many alarms, all set to full volume in five-minute intervals on my phone. It is the getting to sleep that is my problem; I have had this problem for a while now.
I am not one of those short-termers who gets stressed out by work or school and has a couple nights where they toss and turn, unable to sleep until midnight. No, I can remember being just 12 or so and staying up till all hours reading, doing one of the many crafts I was obsessed with at the time, or watching pirated episodes of The Powerpuff Girls on my tiny iPhone as my sister lay fast asleep in the top bed of our bunk bed. At the time my mom would call me a night owl. Sometimes I would spend my late nights up with her as she also struggled to sleep. She would tell me stories about her own childhood, we would talk and one time we even spent hours organizing the storage on my younger brother's iPad.
I do not really consider myself a night owl anymore, though. I do acknowledge that I may be a nyctophile (lover of the night), however. I guess I have learned over the years to make the most of my extra nighttime hours; I catch up on tv shows, at times watching whole seasons in just one night. In the evening, I do the majority of my college assignments—sitting hunched at my desk, until my eyes cannot seem to focus. I start typing words without any vowels, my foot having gone numb hours ago, and growing more painful every minute. Other times I try to relax: I color, crochet, make jewelry, clean, write or do my nails. There is one constant, however, around two a.m. most nights, I decide to pack it all in. It is my ritual, my routine; where I switch off my computer, brush my teeth, finally turn off the light in my room, and get into bed. I procrastinate turning off all of the distractions and lying alone in the quiet darkness of my bed until the very last minute, until my brain feels like it will explode if I do not go to sleep soon. I do it because, when I eventually do, things very often start to get quite scary.
Most nights, after I slide into my bed pulling the covers up tight right under my chin, I lie there for a while, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. The glow in the dark stars that mimic the night sky outside my window glow softly and I can begin to be able to see the outline of my desk and chair, along with the dim night sky framed by the bushes and trees outside. Nothing at all floats around in my head at first. I am solely focused on the comfort of the soft pillows as I move around until my positioning is just right and I fix the comforter for the last time. Then I close my eyes.
It might take a second but then they come creeping in. It always starts with just one. A feeling like someone in my family could be lying dead in their bed upstairs. This is followed by the overwhelming urge to get out of my own bed, to go listen by their doors for quiet breathing, to reassure myself that they are still alive. It is easy enough to brush the first thought away and convince myself that it is entirely irrational. However, as I drift closer to sleep my mind runs wild, firing a million different scenarios into my consciousness, each one being more horrible and terrifying than the last. They play over and over again, morphing into the worst possible scenario; my entire family being dead or dying while I lie there, not wanting to look into their rooms and confirm my fears. Every night is like this, with an occasional peppering of thoughts about having forgotten a college assignment and then failing out of my degree. The second, usually being more prevalent around exam times. In those moments, I am kept awake with thoughts of failing an exam and disappointing my parents. Every morning I wake up more tired than the night before, feeling as though I had barely slept at all.
For the first time however, it is entirely different. I follow the same routine, staying up late finishing an assignment, until I am overcome by the tiredness. I turn off my computer and brush my teeth. Then, finally, switching off my room light and getting into bed. I lie there, eyes open, staring at the starless muddy gray sky outside my window, and the darkening stars on my ceiling, recounting the day in my head. I had set off to college like any other Wednesday, getting on the train with my coffee and settling in for the hour-long ride into the city. I had gotten off at the station and hiked up the long escalators in a rush. I was never late to class but today the train had been running significantly behind schedule. I pushed through the gates at the exit of the station, trying to calculate how late I would be, when a Myki cop jumped out in front of me. His tone was condescending while asking for my Myki. The rest was a blur, as he lectured me on using the wrong type of card through disgusting brown stained teeth that crowded one another and protruded at jagged angles. His tone, mocking and cruel. I tried to profess my innocence, as he sneered that he was “only doing his job”. After he finally let me go, I hurried the 15 minutes to campus and then into a toilet stall. I cried then. Mad that he had not listened to me, angry that I could not tell him to go fuck himself and crawl back to his mommy’s basement. I timed my quiet sniffles with the whir of the electric hand dryers, as I hoped they would drown them out.
Lying there in bed remembering it over again, I was even more angry and upset. It made me want to cry once more. Instead, I simply closed my eyes, committed to going to sleep and forgetting all about it. My mind had a different plan though. As I was just on the precipice of sleep, I imagined seeing the man again. This time, as I reached him, drawing out a hammer from my pink tote bag. I felt my arm swing back with smooth ease and forward in one clean stroke. He was struck squarely in the head. Sagging then, his body crumpled, splayed on the filthy train station floor. Kneeling then to perch beside him, quickly storing the hammer back in my pink tote bag, where I then retrieved some plastic gloves. Once they were on, I reached for a pair of pliers. They had been my father's. The pliers had been left outside many times, they had grown thoroughly rusted, and the rubber handle torn. They would, however, still do the job. The man's mouth lay agape, displaying those same vile teeth that had smirked at me before. I proceeded then to extract those teeth, one by one, occasionally using the force of both hands to grip the pliers and pull. After it was done, there was a neat pile of blood-stained teeth sitting beside him. With my gloved hands, the teeth were scooped up and then forced down his throat.
The next morning when I awoke, it was scarcely more than a quickly fading memory. The details like a dream, blurry and seemingly very far away. All I knew for certain was that I had slept quite peacefully, indeed.