By Wendy Hodge
Last night there was a horrible storm brewing. Thunder rumbled low and long in the distance, and the lightning cracked across the sky. I was standing outside, waiting for the rain. The sapphire blue evening gown I wore was swirling around my ankles. The diamonds in my earrings and bracelets sparkled like fireflies against my skin. My dog stood close by, ears back and hair spiked up, his canine senses on alert.
And he was green. With eight paws – two per leg. I looked down at him, and he said, “This one’s gonna be a doozie!”
And then I woke up.
There are people who interpret dreams, so I’ve read. I’d love to hear an explanation for that one. There are also people who dream in black and white. I’ve never been one of those people. It’s always in vivid technicolor and in stereo surround sound. Whether I want it to be or not. Sleep and I – we have a love/hate relationship.
As a child, I walked in my sleep. Tales are legendary in our family…there’s the time I went into my sister’s room and stood over her. Staring. For quite a while, apparently. When she woke and saw me there, she screamed loud enough to scare my dad (who slept through everything). He came running, my sister continued screaming, and I slowly walked back to my bed and tucked myself in, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.
Then there was the time (I was around seven years old) when my mother woke to see me with my nightgown hiked up about to relieve myself all over her red velvet chair. Let me back up a bit… The red velvet chair was her prize possession. She had saved for many months to be able to afford such a luxury.
I remember the day she drove us to the local furniture store in downtown Opelika and handed over the cash she had sacrificed to save. The day it was delivered to our house, we celebrated with an impromptu lunch of tomato and lettuce sandwiches and pear salad with cottage cheese. That may not sound like much of a meal, but back in the day that was a fancy Southern feast. We even invited the delivery man
to join us. The chair was set up in my parents’ room, at an angle in the corner. I never saw anyone sit in it. I think we were all too in awe of its velvet splendor. And so here I was, not even a year later, squatting
over it like I’d been raised in a barn.
There were other occasions, during my childhood, where I stood in empty rooms and flashed the light switch on and off repeatedly or opened and closed the refrigerator door over and over. There was even
the time I went outside with the cat and sat down on the concrete bench in the backyard, legs crossed at the ankles, as if waiting for a bus. It was my sister who found me there as she returned from a late night at work, and brought me back inside. She sat there with me all night, I am told, to make sure I stayed put.
Eventually I outgrew my night wanderings, like most people do. During my teenage years, I fell in love with sleep. I could not get enough. Saturday mornings and every single day in the summer (with the exception of Sundays), I lingered in bed, drowning in sleep, unwilling to resurface until the morning sun was high overhead. I remember those days fondly because sleep never has been as sweet since then.
Insomnia became my nighttime partner when I was a young mother. I think all the nights of being awake for feedings and changings and burpings and lullabyes flipped a switch somewhere, and my biorhythms
never exactly reset to normal. When my children were out of the diaper stage but still in elementary school, I saw a doctor who prescribed Ambien. It seemed like the promise of a miracle for me – uninterrupted sleep and no diminished focus the next day. The night I took that tiny coral-colored pill, I went to bed immediately and woke the next morning feeling slightly groggy but relieved that I’d slept all night – no nightmares, no staring at the clock as the minutes ticked by. I was thrilled. Until I walked into the kitchen and saw an empty box of Saltine crackers on the counter. I’d just purchased that box the day before. The empty cracker sleeves were lined up perfectly straight next to each other, as if waiting for an inspection. The TV was on in the living room – the TV I had turned off the night before. And the laundry that I had put off all week had been washed, dried, and sat neatly folded on the couch. The back door was wide open.
I took the entire bottle of Ambien and flushed them down the toilet.
These days insomnia is still an issue, but sporadically. There are still nights I toss and turn, but there are also nights I sleep as if I’m 16 again. And almost always, I dream. Night after night, I dream of places I
miss and places I’ve never seen before. I dream of people I love. I dream of people I’ve lost. When I’m lucky, I dream of my sister. I get to hear her voice and see her smile. On those mornings I wake, and in
those first moments I try to stay there, in that dream land, but the dream evaporates like smoke in my hand. That’s where she lives now, my sweet sister…. In dreams.
By Wendy Hodge