Mostly, I am not afraid of going to bed anymore. But there are nights, after a cup of chamomile tea, some yoga, and a bit of journaling, when I think, “Maybe tonight I won’t be able to sleep,” even though the Sand Man is laying it on thick and it’s so quiet I hear the clock ticking. So I crawl into my husband’s arms and he prays that I will learn to sleep again. We just lay there, silent, and then I flick on the fan for white noise and get into my bed.
Because I can’t share a bed right now. When my husband twitches as he falls asleep, I startle, the dropping veil of melatonin jerked back. So we dragged in a twin mattress and squeezed it between my dresser and the big bed. Some nights, he hangs his arm over the side and I reach up and we hold each other’s fingers for a few seconds. Before I walk into the night alone.
I lie there and coach myself to sleep.
Relax your jaw and forehead. Count your breaths and see if you can make it to 100 tonight. One … two … three … fourteen … twenty-three. A kids’ song grinds through my head in the rut that used to fill with Arabic. Drat. One … two … three. Thank you for the orange zinnia I picked today. Thank you that I made dinner tonight and cleaned the bathroom. I will lie down and sleep…for you alone make me dwell in safety.
The metal closet doors ting, adjusting to cooler temperatures. Somewhere—next door, downstairs, across the street?—someone drops something. Thud. Adrenaline. Breathe. You are safe. You are brave. I settle a warm rice sock on my chest. Its name is Gildan, after the sock brand. We can’t have pets in our apartment, but we do have Gildan, my ever-present anxiety calmer.
A baby cries—a toddler, my boy? My eyes snap open. No, no, it was just the whir of the fan mingled with…something. My faulty ears again, tuned to phantom sounds. My tense body, responsive to unreality.
Breathe in: God is our refuge and strength. Breathe out: an ever-present help in trouble. In: Therefore we will not fear. Out: though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. I meditate, murmur silently, exchange words for words. Though my health falls into the heart of the sea. Though my dreams fall…though my plans fall…though I fall…
Poof! My eyes fill with the cloudy white burst of a camera firing. I sit up, press my hand on my racing heart. How long have I been sleeping? I crawl out to the living room and check my phone.
Two hours. I can never get beyond two hours. I lower myself onto the couch. I don’t cry; this is too normal. Breathe. You are okay. You can do this. Though he slay me, yet will I praise him. I will not die but live.
Back in bed, I reach up to the dresser. My ring clinks on the tiny coffee cup as my fingers search out the orange pill. I used to serve coffee in that cup. There were so many tiny, sweet coffees on trays, dishes of caramels or chocolates beside them. I used to live somewhere else. I used to speak another language. I used to, I used to…
I swallow the pill and sit for a minute so it goes down. Now I will sleep for four or five hours. I used to feel the icy blue of the medicine spreading to my extremities, to get panicky as I lost control. Now, mercifully, I just fall asleep.
4:00 a.m. Why is it I always wake at 4:00 a.m.? Is it the seventeen months of 4:00 a.m.’s when their god would shout at me to get up and pray? (Prayer is better than sleep, you know, but is it possible to pray if we cannot sleep?)
I try to go to a peaceful place in my mind. That’s what my counselor told me to do, but the trouble is, I have a hard time finding those places. The last year and a half hold none. In the four years before, I can find the park where I walked almost every day. I can take a walk now, under the maple trees. Make sure you don’t get ambushed, someone chides. No, self. There are no men in that park. There is no one to assault, violate you again.
My mind returns to Psalms, the only safe shore to wash up on. My soul waits for you, O LORD, more than watchman wait for morning, more than watchmen wait for morning. Preserve me, O LORD, according to your love.
“Mama!” I hear. A few minutes later, running feet, and the boy joins me in bed. I cover him with my blanket and hope he will rest a while longer. Then I wake up and he is not there. He never was there; I was dreaming, hallucinating it all. The bedroom door is still mostly closed, a crack of predawn gray coming through.
It is almost morning.
Psalm 42:8 talks about the LORD’s song with us at night. How have you experienced his presence or clung to it in the literal darkness of night?
How have you persevered through the fear and loneliness of insomnia or broken sleep?