Sometimes I can’t sleep.
It’s 3 a.m. and I’m going to treat this insomnia as a gift, an opportunity to write, despite the fact I already spent far too many hours in this chair, looking at this screen, a glorious sunny day wasted on work and internet and weak attempts to churn out something new while all around me the children got older, the dog missed her walk, the ocean glassed off, the bills grew further past due.
If only I could find poetry in delayed bank deposits and the subsequent rush to keep the phone/water/electricity turned on, the neverending challenge of making an inadequate salary stretch enough to get by. Or the flood of guilt that demands I qualify my complaints with, “But I know I’m really so lucky compared to many others.”
Of course, I am. I am not raising my children in Somalia or Iraq or any of the other places their life expectancy would be far less than it is here on the California coast. They are happy, healthy, whole. I have my own health, aching back not withstanding. I wish I could take one of the muscle relaxants I’ve amassed a collection of, but the middle child expects to be taken to the dentist in five hours. Last time I took one, I slept past 10 a.m., unheard of for me, woke feeling as though gravity’s pull had increased tenfold during the night. Multiple cups of coffee couldn’t force the grogginess away – I spent the day fogged in, doped up, still feeling the pain radiating below my spine and barely able to think beyond wishing I could lie back down and close my eyes.
I wish that now…. already 3:30 a.m. – how does time fly by so in these early hours?… but I know a cup of tea is in the works, maybe even the light clicked on and a book pulled off the shelf. Left to its own devices, my brain will return to the thoughts of tragedy that occupied it before I gave up attempting sleep. Not any real tragedy, mind you, but the habitual imagining of what could happen if my luck were to suddenly run out – if I became one of those people I’m always aware of being more fortunate than.
Nobody warned me about the real horror of having children: that the moment they arrived in my life, a corresponding fear of losing them would take up residence in my heart. All the ways in which people warn young mothers their lives will change, but no one ever says, “Well, that’s it for you, then. No matter how lovely things may be, you’re on the brink of devastation from here on out. Your best efforts, no matter how good, won’t necessarily make a bit of difference. Too much is up to fate and you’ll spend countless nights unable to sleep because of it, conjuring up all the ways in which something bad could happen despite your efforts to protect them, finding yourself at 3 a.m. in tears at the thoughts pervading your overtaxed brain, praying, to any god who will listen, ‘Let them stay happy and healthy and, oh please, let them outlive me.”
But I suppose that would be a bit much to say to someone who is just figuring out diapers and nursing and car seats. Besides, they’ll realize it soon enough.