It begins with an itch. The corner of your heel. The back of your knee. The seam of your t-shirt against your ribs.
The premonition spreads: warm molasses: one of those nights.
The sleeping forms beside you heave and sigh amidst your nighttime fluttering.
The drip drip of the bathtub. The gentle moan of the television next door. Tick tick as red numbers advance.
Your potential REM time dwindles.
The panicked stranglehold cracks its knuckles. You remember the pale bruises from its grasp nights before.
Blinking. Turning. Creaking floorboards for a midnight drink of water. Of coconut milk. Anything to trick your brain. You latch and unlatch the door without disturbing the sleeping forms. Jealousy feels unavoidable. You are jealous of their deeply regular lung movement; of bright eyes in dawn light.
The velour of the broken-in couch can be the antidote. You might give in with the yellow streetlamp glowing on your face.
Now four hours. Now three. Now two. Now 5:30 am and the alarm is awake. And so you should be.
Or, scenario two.
The hot baths, journaling, gratitude lists, quiet darkness, the wind-down ritual. The candle that burns like Greek Orthodox church incense.
To slow the grinding wheels. To drop the dark shroud and persuade the brain, just this once, to stop whirring.
Lucky you: for two solid hours, you join the world of the living dead: the dead asleep: the sleeping. The blissful in and out of rhythmic breath. The REM that creeps, creeps, creeps.
but it is a perpetually receding tide.
The clock strikes twelve. The ceiling fan falls through the roof. The floor gives out. The foundation crumbles beneath you. The room floods. There is someone next to your bed, insistently pinching your arm. But you are paralyzed. Silent. Unable to speak.
Unable to ask for help.
At that moment – the fan-falling, flooding, stranger-entering, terror-filled moment – you are straight up, gasping for air, 180 bpm heart race, significant other terrified, trying to get your sweating, trembling body to hold still, trying desperately to convince you… that there is no one there. That the roof is intact. That the floodwaters never sloshed the walls.
The monster. The disaster. The darkness. The fear.
The terror emerges only in darkness – Hecate’s midnight visitor.
You wake at the bell. You don’t call in sick. You smile and toss your head and convince yourself that this is something everyone deals with – this occasional lack of sleep. You’ll survive.
But the hours add up.
And up. And up and up.
And the brain tissue changes. And the eyes become dull. The everydayness changes into the norm into numb dumbness. You become a well-intentioned zombie. With a strange inability to change your ways.
When you mention the word, people look away: first world problems, these, with your tempurpedic mattress.
For more information about the short and long-term impacts of sleep deprivation: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/sleep-deprivation_n_4557142.html