9/26/08

Real Sleep

My senior year of college I got really sick and almost died over christmas vacation. I returned for the spring semester anemic. I had quit smoking cigarettes and had to take a cocktail of stomach medicines, antibiotics, painkillers and cough syrup every day. I started smoking pot, too. In earnest. The first book I read, curled up in my dorm room bed in the New York snow, bloodless, pilled and stoned out of my mind, was Shelley Jackson's excellent short story collection, The Melancholy of Anatomy. One of the stories, "Sleep," personifies it as a light, sort of golden snow-substance. That comes down from the sky. Children sculpt statues of themselves out of sleep. These twins can take over for them, while the original leaves or sleeps or dreams. It's really gorgeous, and at the time really made me think a lot about sleep, dreaming. Rest.

This is all to say that while Shelley Jackson might be in my top three favorite writers, that is not at all what Sleep is like. Not real Sleep. I'm an insomniac, I go for days or even weeks getting only a handful of hours of fitful tossing. I never remember my dreams. It's more like passing out. I wouldn't even call it sleep. I'd call it napping.

Last night, though, I slept. I got good Sleep. For a few hours, anyway. After five.

Real Sleep isn't light. It's not relaxing, it doesn't float down from the sky like snow. It's not dusty. It's heavier than wind. It's not a place you drift off to. It's quantifiable, you can mark it and measure it. Read it on a chart. Make a graph of it. Its like glue. It is condensed, viscous, purified. Boiled down like maple syrup. Slow, sweet and sticky. Maybe it is like drugs then: it hits you, you know it, and it's over too soon. You wake up. It's like someone getting out of bed, except for the fact that when good Sleep is over, he's still there. You can watch it fill up his lungs next to you. It's better than drugs. It's not subtle, you don't forget it's happening. When you get good Sleep you feel it. You know where you're going, and you're glad. It's like that old wives' tale, Love: you just know. All this description paints a picture of just a fraction of the feeling. There is a distinct logic to it. It uncovers itself. And it goes without saying, that knowledge of pleasure can give you a head ache.

And in the morning, they'll know. They'll see it in your face. On your way to work, when you run into your friends? When strangers stare a moment too long at the corners of your mouth? Not your droopy eyelids, but something just behind them. Your Sleep will be plain, conspicuous. It will have been an overt pleasure and you cannot have been keeping it a secret. It reeks, too. They will smell it on you. It will be like, what did David Wojnarowicz call it, over and over again? The rude perfume of sex. It stains, sort of. It stays behind your ears and underneath your fingernails. Today, I can't wash it off.

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