Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping

May 18, 2008
Darkness is merely the absence of light, but I can almost sense it as a separate entity, something that tenderly envelops me in safety or treacherously swoops down and captures my soul, if such a thing exists. It presses upon my eyes, like a velvet blindfold that blots out all light. Night is a fickle creature: sinuous, elusive, and completely incomprehensible. It is when the golden orb of day has surrendered to the shining, silver moon, and the sky has become an inky sea, sprinkled with intensely burning stars. But I do not witness any of these celestial transformations; I lie at rest inside, ensconced in my soft bed. So begins my journey to sleep.

It is often difficult, at first, to calm my busy brain, still active with rapid firing of neurons. My mind and body stubbornly resist rest, conspiring to deprive me of my sleep. A flow of ideas ensues, even as I desperately try to suppress it by foolishly counting sheep. Even as I attempt to envision those woolly animals obliviously leaping across a green-grassed sunlit meadow, a scene of utmost tranquility; worries, fears, and doubts plague me, and I am overcome with obsessive ruminations and wild hypotheticals. The worst moments of the day are relived, accompanied by acute embarrassment or misery. Regret reigns freely in times like this, as my mind reverts to harsh self-criticism with nothing else to occupy itself. Thoughts ricochet, rebounding off one another, like molecules of gas at high pressure, always propagating more. My eyes remain open, staring out into the grey room, tracing a passing car's headlights as it momentarily illuminates the wall, forming slits through the window blinds like prison bars. I find malicious faces in the shadows; my imagination is cruelly indefatigable.

To escape from myself, I slip on my headphones, using music as my sedative. The euphonious tunes wash over me, the soaring riffs enchant, and I feel a powerful sense of utter safety. The bass rumbles deeply and steadily, measured peals of thunder, and the lyrics lull me. I traverse from waking to sleeping on a grand and exquisite bridge crafted of melodies and cadences, impervious to threats. My breathing slows, my mind secedes, and finally, I drop off to unconsciousness.

But other times, I find no respite, even in the sanctuary of notes. Sounds are magnified, and I hear every rustle, every creak in the house: the click of a light switch, the whirr of the laundry machine, the gurgle of the dishwasher. The neighbor's dog urgently barks, a booming noise, and I wonder about its canine thoughts. Is it afraid, outside and alone? Is it frightened by the silence that undetectably creeps inside to its core and confronts its inner secrets? Is it made anxious by the invasive stillness that uncovers its center and exposes its essence, leaving it completely raw and stark? With everything else so quiet and motionless, the animal must turn inward, but unwilling, finding such a task unbearable, it creates its own distraction. Though horror writers and Hollywood have manufactured fearsome fiends of decaying zombies, invincible phantoms, and ravenous vampires, the most monstrous beast is one's inner, darker self, who threatens to emerge after sunset. Night has an uncanny way of making one vulnerable.

Yet, contrastingly, the hours can also be a peaceful period. The leaves of the trees swish in the wind, and the wind chimes in the garden softly sound. I continue to hear their reverberations many seconds after, reflecting on what missed significance they might have. When it is raining, I listen to the nearly inaudible pitter-patter on my roof or the hushed roar of steadier precipitation, wondering if each drop is part of a message in Morse code from another world. Serene musings and pleasant memories now calm me; disquiet deliquesces. Through a crack in the blinds, I can catch a glimpse of the silent sentinel of a street lamp, faithfully casting golden light upon the gently gleaming asphalt. There is nothing sinister to fear of the nights of suburbia, safe from the glaring sun that harshly illuminates one's flaws.

Contradictions abound in my perceptions of the hours after sunset. Yet, as Emerson remarked, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." For night is a many-shaded chameleon, who changes not only color but also form and mood. It is swiftly shifting -- unpredictable at its best, filled with delirium at its most extreme. I can never fathom its mercurial nature, like a desert snake can never fathom the ocean. Think of the soldier on a night mission, maintaining a stoic countenance but inwardly fearful for her life. Think of the infant in peaceful slumber, dreaming of colorful puppets and of his mother's smiles. Think of the wizened man, rheumatic and experienced, kept awake by aches, both physical and mental. Think of the teenage girl in her bed, thinking of her fellow sleepers, her fellow dreamers.

Imagine all these people, all in the dark, all in their separate nightly universes. But enough of this; I must reach my destination in my path to sleep.

Patiently, I wait out my body's natural impulse to stay awake and alert. I lie in perfect stillness, and eventually, sleep paralysis sets in. I experience a falling sensation, and indecipherable hypnagogic noises soon follow, disconcerting and in their strangeness and meaninglessness. It is during these few minutes before complete unconsciousness that I am entirely undisturbed by outside stimuli. I inexplicably feel that if I could only search hard enough, I could find a shred of truth in this small space of time, on the brink of consciousness, on the cusp of awareness. Yet even now, my thoughts are fluid and difficult to control, like water drops on a window, and I must soon surrender to inevitable sleep.

As I slip into the uncharted land of dreams and succumb to an alternate reality, my thoughts swirl together, and always, the world revolves, bringing me to a new day.

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