Going to Bed and Not Going to Sleep

Every night, a war wages on in my bedroom.

I can’t relax. There is no nightstand. Near my bed, there is a dusty hardwood floor filled with clutter: two crinkled socks, a pair of dirty earplugs, a mechanical pencil, a dime, a quarter, a thin paper slip from a fortune cookie that reads “Help and support causes you believe in,” and fibrous clumps of dust. All of it is spread in different spots throughout my room. Closest to my bed is the door and a glass of water. My mattress is raised half a foot off the floor by a metal bedframe. It’s an island, yet, a large imposing island, encumbering the room like an unwelcome guest. Every night I try to sleep on it.

Since leaving home to live on my own, I’ve slept in two different cities, in six different rooms. Throughout that time, I’ve removed one obstacle after another from my daily attempts to the perfect night of sleep.

It began in San Francisco.

My first room was in a two-story house in a suburban neighborhood ten blocks east from the Pacific Ocean. The house was split between eight people, ages eighteen to forty-five. It was a cheap and temporary living situation that lasted two months. For the most part, I slept well. Why was it so easy?

Afterwards, I moved into a studio on the 8th floor of an apartment building in a neighborhood near downtown. People passed out on public benches outside of my building every night. Fights broke out in the streets. I hated leaving my apartment past midnight. Yet, the disorder couldn’t reach my room. It’s safe up here.

My fortune ran out when I moved into my third room. After leaving downtown, I relocated to an apartment on the second floor of a building above a busy street that had three different bars and a couple popular restaurants. I overlooked my block from a long bay window that nearly took up the entire wall. At night I heard high-pitched shrieks of laughter, the clatter of high-heels on the sidewalk, honking cars, and the ape-like, guttural howls of men walking in large groups and shouting at others across the street. Stop it, stop it, stop it. I muffled the cacophony with earplugs. But should I be relying on earplugs? Now it’s impossible to sleep without them. I can never sleep with them off.

Shortly before moving to Brooklyn, to my fourth room, I opted for a larger mattress than what I had in San Francisco. The twin mattress I used for three years in San Francisco couldn’t support my long limbs, and my arms and legs dangled off the sides like dead soldiers drooping off of a boulder after a sudden flank attack. I got a queen-size mattress. Finally, I can stretch my body.

In my fifth room in Brooklyn, my window looked out into the street from the east side of my apartment building. Sunlight drenched the room every morning when the sun rose. The light forced me awake, so I bought blackout curtains from a department store and used them to cover my windows. But now it’s harder to wake up. It’s too dark.

My sixth room, the one I presently lay in, seems like it is alive. While lying on my bed at any time of the day, I hear pipes creak in the walls. Sometimes a rattling erupts near the head of my bed like a troop of men cocking their shotguns. From other walls in my room, the creaking resembles the light knocks of a person tapping their fingers against the plaster. I hear scratches from small creatures scampering in the ceiling. The winter cold seeps in through the window. On chilly nights, it feels like my room is immersed in frosty slime. I should tell the building manager to turn up the heat. But wouldn’t that make the pipes creak louder? (Wait for it to stop)

To counter these forces, I arm myself with earplugs, an enormous mattress covered in blankets and pillows, and black curtains that keep the light at bay.

The war doesn’t end.

While lying on my bed with nothing to focus on, engulfed in darkness with foam in my ears, I hear new sounds. I hear the pulse of my heartbeat, and the steady rhythm of my lungs inhaling and exhaling. My mind, alone with itself, races in hyperactive circles. Like soldiers fighting on a battlefield, my thoughts fire at whim and chase themselves into corners, gunning each other down. On this massive island, I’m captured in the ocean of my mind.

Am I falling asleep? What time is it? I’m going to check. But it makes no difference. Checking the time won’t change it from being late. But if it makes no difference, then I might as well check. I should stay still and fall asleep What about tomorrow? What am I doing tomorrow? I should write more. (Aren’t you trying to be a writer?) I should be doing more for people other than myself. I’m spoiled, yet never satisfied. (“Help and support causes you believe in”) What have I done for anyone, really? I’ve done all I can, right? Am I going to be tired tomorrow? How many hours am I getting? Am I falling asleep?

I wake up thirsty. I reach down and drink from the glass of water placed on the floor by my bed. In a flash, I recall the layout of the room. I make out the walls and the door. It’s different from all of the other rooms I’ve woken up in. In the same moment, I remember the entire day I’ve planned out for myself. And usually, I try to close my eyes, bury myself in blankets, and stay in bed a little longer.

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