Sleep is supposed to be

“Sleep is supposed to be,
By souls of sanity,
The shutting of the eye.”
– Emily Dickinson

Sometimes I have insomnia. Actually, frequently I have insomnia. It’s not a chronic thing though, and is usually self-inflicted. For example, I have a very bad habit of falling asleep around 10:30 or 11 pm without having washed my face or brushed my teeth, and then waking up around 3 am. I wash the face, brush the teeth and am promptly wide awake. Deep down, I know that my body needs more sleep. I know that I am, fundamentally, still tired. But my darling brain has other plans. All of a sudden, impending (and as-yet-unscheduled) trips to the dentist terrify me. My life is, at that moment, to my twilit mind, in utter shambles. Or I just think of all the millions of little things I need to do that absolutely can’t be done then. If you’re reading this and have ever gotten an email from me at an oddball hour, this is probably why.

Not surprisingly, it’s during this time that I do a lot of writing. Numerous essays and term papers were written in the wee hours of the morning during my later undergrad years and most of my grad school career too. In fact, I’d say about half of the entries in this blog were, if not written during my self-imposed insomnia, at least conceived of during that unfortunate hour or so of mental limbo. And, not surprisingly, this entry is no exception.

However, last night’s insomnia was not self-inflicted, for once. If you have ever lived somewhere that is not a single-family house (or perhaps even if you haven’t), you know what some of the joys are in communal living. Infestations, etiquette (or lack thereof), and noise. Oh, the noise. Last year, my roommate and I not-so-fondly nicknamed our upstairs neighbors “The Elephants.” While I think I had approximately three sightings of any one of them throughout the course of the year, I heard them constantly. But, unlike their pachyderm counterparts, these creatures were nocturnal. As in, moving furniture at 2 am. At first, we assumed it was because they were allegedly arrived here from China, and jetlag’s a rotten thing. But when it didn’t stop after a couple months, we realized that, no, slamming doors in the middle of the night and running in heels from one side of the apartment were just going to be standard practice. But for the most part, I slept through this all. Thankfully.

So, The Elephants moved out. We counted our blessings, as it probably meant their inability to use a shower curtain would no longer endanger our ceiling due to sizable puddles upstairs. (Amazing, by the way.) And we thought the noise would be gone.

Welllll, it seems that The Elephants invited their cousin, the Stomping Rhinoceros, and his band of horses to move in. Alright, if a little rowdiness over football games is the worst we have to deal with, then that’s not so bad. Last night, though, was a banner night.

Perhaps as a part of some early Halloween festivities, there was very loud music played intermittently from about 9 pm until when I went to bed just before midnight. With my alarm set for 6:30 am, I curled up in my sweatshirt, sweatpants, and piles of blankets for what I assumed would be a restful six and a half hours or so. And I did sleep restfully. But not for six hours.

Around 3 am, I woke up to the sound of repeated thudding bass. I don’t remember if it had been going on ever since I’d gone to sleep, but it certainly was going loud and strong just then. I groggily rolled over, pulled a pillow over my head, and began to curse them silently. But I could still hear it – the intermittent “guh guh guh guh guh-guh-guh-guh” that meant that someone was still awake. Namely, me. So, I tossed and turned briefly, and began to doze I think, because I distinctly remember having a dream in which I went upstairs, reamed out the idiots, and congratulated a high school acquaintance on his recently-born son. It was only around 7:30 this morning that I realized that last bit was actually a dream.

But the bass kept going. I started to plot what I could do – take my scary, half-awake self upstairs and bang on their door? Nah. Too cold to get out of bed. Turn on the computer and write until I passed out again? Dicey. I might not fall back asleep if I did that. Text a friend to complain about the noise in the secretly selfish hope that the text would jar them awake too? Mean-spirited. Better to suffer alone.

So I did. 3:30 rolled around, and still the noise was going strong. Now I heard talking, too, which I soon realized was from my own apartment, where my roommate had a few friends over (who hadn’t been there when I fell asleep). So, that merited a trip to get a drink of water and groggily inform them that I had to be up in 3 hours, and could they please keep it down? I may be imagining this (I really was in kind of a haze), but I think there was definite fear in their eyes when they saw my spectre appear in the dimly-lit kitchen. I’m going to assume it resulted from my imperious presence and not my wicked case of bedhead.

I tried to make peace with the thudding. Find a lulling rhythm in it. Identify the song, maybe. Nope. It’s like a deteriorating relationship, in which you can find nothing good that the other person does. Everything, and I mean everything, has some element of the irritating to it. “My GOD why do you have to BREATHE?” I recently tried to justify this sort of behavior to a friend and fellow piano teacher, saying that, as private teachers, we are trained inherently to look for the problems in a situation in order that we might help to fix them. We are the troubleshooting bloodhounds of life. That theory was mostly an attempt to pat ourselves on the back about our nitpickiness, though. Maybe it’s true. We’ll say it is.

Regardless, that bass went on and on and on. Finally, remembering a friend tell me that he used the BBC as white noise to help him sleep, I decided to create a distraction of my own. On the iPod I use for my alarm, there’s a playlist of Portuguese music which, under normal circumstances, puts me almost immediately in a pleasant, stable mental state. Last night though, no amount of fado could drag me out of my rapidly mounting murderous rage.

And then it stopped. At 3:58 am, there was silence. And just as rapidly as I’d been plotting to run upstairs and steal all the underwear of the residents of that apartment and throw it out the window into the disgusting slush on the ground (yes, it snowed in October), it all washed away. Anger, like most of my emotions, is intense but short-lived. And I slept.

While most of my ramblings are tied up neatly into some moral lesson-shaped bundle, this one is admittedly less so. Don’t steal your upstairs neighbors’ underwear, lest you regret it in the morning? Try to let go of stuff that irritates you, even if it keeps you awake for an hour in the middle of the night? Music can be both a healing balm and the sword that pierces you through to the very core? I don’t know. I think the ultimate moral of all this is that I need a nap. A quiet, uninterrupted nap. Because my rage could easily be rekindled, and you don’t want to face my messy hair. Trust me.

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