A nod to not sleeping
It’s the second night in a row I can’t sleep. It’s been a problem for me as long as I can remember. I can’t shut down. I can’t get those little thoughts to unsquirm from my head. I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep, I simply cannot.
What’s wrong with that?
I like being up at night. I can look out onto my porch. My street is dark. Pennington Drive lazily curves with no noise, no tires, no going and no coming. All the lights are out and only garage lamps brighten the asphalt landscape, saying, yes we are home. I imagine my entire neighborhood dreaming. The lights outside their homes flicker.
I’ve always done my best work at night. In college I would stay up writing poems and little paragraphs. The clutter is gone and the word—the one correct word—the one that escapes you, it’s found easier. It’s when I would find out what I really thought. It’s when I would allow myself to feel proud or scared or overwhelmed.
I still stay up at night. I’m not sure if I’m still as productive. But I’ll always love the late-night feeling. When we talk about our most fun nights. Those nights. You’re almost always up late. You’re wrenching the last drop out of that night. You can see into the vacant hours ahead, your eyes closed, and you’re fighting against the dying of that light. It’s a sip of whiskey, or a last word to a friend, or the refusal to press pause on the music.
One night, a while ago, I stayed up really late. I walked home down the empty streets of Chestertown. I slid my sneakers against the pavement, looking upwards. I had been with some kids I hardly knew and of course this was college. I bought a cigar for my walk. I never smoke. I lit it as I separated myself from the group. It was the end of my time in that town. I inhaled and puffed out clouds of cheap gray smoke. I watched them billow and disappear into the darkness, perfectly content to watch them vanish.
That was a good night. You never recount the best nights of sleep, but rather the nights that precede them. The nighttime clears your mind, or clouds it pleasantly, perhaps because everything else is pushed aside. You’re left with yourself.
Let’s return to the present. It’s 1:26 a.m. in Delaware. I say my location now because I miss Chicago. That feels important when it’s late, that I can no longer look to the Second City skyline, a glimmering arrangement of boxy light. I love my home here but I miss that shining possibility. And because it is so late, or so early, I can grab on to that truth.
Tonight I’ll dream when I fall asleep. But the thoughts just before that passing out, before giving in to my stinging eyelids—those are the dreams to remember.