Its 2:08 AM and the only sounds that dare break the quiet trance are interlaced within each other as if seeking strength in numbers. I’ve learned to sync my breaths with the ticks of the clock to avoid any discontinuity in the rhythm of the night. Sleep has become a foreign concept, snores and dreams a different language that I have yet to learn. My nighttime routine is simply a compilation of daydreams consisting of excerpts from the long list of should-haves and could -haves I collect throughout my day.
I’ve grown used to the aura of exhaustion that relentlessly clings to my every actions. After years of fighting against my own biological rhythm I decided to make my uninvited guest, insomnia, feel at home. I’ve learned how to make the best of my unfortunate situation. Every night I lay in bed, not expecting much but hoping for the best as the minutes go by, occasionally overstaying their welcome and making the hours drag on. Tonight, especially, seemed to move in slow motion, as if the seconds within each minute were arriving late and creating a domino effect that extended throughout the night.
It’s not hard to tell that it’s going to be an especially irritating few hours. I could feel the anxiety bubbling in the pit of my stomach, threatening to spill out as the minutes go by. I am confined to my bed, the bags under my eyes acting as anchors tying my down, demanding I keep searching for sleep. But it’s a blind search and I know I won’t succeed. I sit up looking around my dark room and decide to break the silence. I get off my bed, waking up the house as I set my feet on the cold floor. The wood panels letting out a series of complaints below me as I wake them from their slumber. I head towards my window and open it, letting the dim moonlight seep into my home as I escape, and leaving behind the ball and chain that I had attached myself to. Freeing myself from the limitations I had once thought I could not function without.
The wind greeted me instantly, reminding me I’m not the only one who doesn’t gets much rest. My neighborhood was emitting different vibes, giving off a glow I had never seen before. It seemed at ease, letting the natural landscape around it control the setting. The native aspects of the environment somehow seemed more prominent now than before. They no longer needed to compete for attention with its industrialized companions and could be seen clearly without the haze of comparison. The crickets chirped their harmonized lullabies and the trees danced, creating a show for no reason other than their pure enjoyment. I started walking down the street, basking in the energy of my surroundings, grateful that nature runs on its own clock and is wide awake to keep me company tonight.
As I walked down my neighborhood I began to notice more and more glitches in the system. The house at the end of the street, which always seemed to live on its own power line remained awake. The lights were blatantly turned on, not even trying to blend in with the rest of the houses. I could see them clearly through their translucent windows, the family seemed to be engaging in an important conversation. They stand out from the rest of our neighborhood yet they don’t try to shrink themselves to remain ordinary. They seemed perfectly content in their abnormality, which I will always admire. It’s difficult to embrace something that doesn’t fall in the spectrum of what is considered normal in our societies specific set of views.
I couldn’t help but stare and get lost in the possibilities of the story lines that the house manifests. But within every good story, there’s a problem waiting to rip through the plot and create its own vision of a happy ending. I could hear their arguments from outside, the familiar ring of discontent and passive aggressive phrases and lines resonating through the closed doors, spilling out into the neighborhood.
Suddenly all I could hear was a bitter sweet silence. The argument faded away as the silhouettes of my unrestrained neighbors walked away from each other, the lights slowly fading as they head in their separate directions. The only light still defying the rules of the conventional night emerged from the corner of the house. Without a moment’s notice, the light flickered off, and I was left in complete solitude as the characters of my story disappeared within themselves.
That’s when I saw him. A tragic look finding a home nestled in the wrinkles of his strained face, fixated in a permanent frown. That was the moment I knew; I wouldn’t be alone tonight. He stepped out of his home, and I could sense the relief he felt as he escaped the source of his restlessness. He seemed defeated, giving in to the exhaustion but not enough to actually rest, he was trapped in a limbo. My eyes met him, and I knew he could see the similarities in our features.
“I come out here when I can’t sleep too sometimes, there’s something about how alive everything is that reminds me it’s okay to stray from my sleep cycle.” I said.
“Oh god. Did you hear the arguing? Were they that loud? I’m so sorry. This is ridiculous, not only are they disrupting my night but they are affecting yours too. They are unbelievable, I truly am sorry.” He said
His first instinct was to apologize. He must be used to taking the blame for things that aren’t his fault. It’s the little things that reveal the most about a person, the things that maybe even they aren’t aware of.
“Don’t apologize, I was awake long before this. Would you like some company or do you need to be left alone?” I said. I’ve never been known for my subtlety.
We live in a small city, with only about 300 kids in our high school, but we’ve never actually gotten a chance to speak. Yet now, late in the night I am offering him my time. I’ve always been told nothing good ever happens after 2 AM. For some reason, though, as I stand here looking at him, I recognize a part of myself, and I am willing to take that risk.
“You’ve never talked to me before why do you want to start now?” He said. I couldn’t sense any bitterness, just genuine curiosity.
“I won’t pass up a chance to make someone’s night better. I’ve had my share of sleepless nights. I know how miserable it can feel.” I said.
He gave me a nod of approval and we both sat on the curb of the street, wondering who would break the silence first.
“Do you have trouble sleeping often?” He said.
I weighed out the consequences of letting this stranger get a glimpse of my story, and decided to reveal a guarded truth.
“Recently I haven’t been getting much sleep, nothing concrete is keeping me up though it just seems like I can’t organize myself enough to come together and fall asleep.” I responded.
“To me it feels like the days are on shuffle and I can’t seem to pause long enough to organize them. Everything is falling apart and I’m not sure I can fix it like I have before.” He said.
“It’s a constant stream of arguments, they can never just coexist. I’m here in the middle trying to figure out how to please both of them, without letting them use me as leverage or ammunition against the other.” He added.
I nodded and let him continue. I could see the weight being lifted off his shoulders with every sentence he let out. Everyone needs an outlet.
“Now they are arguing every night and no one gets any sleep, which only adds to the discontent. They aren’t happy but they stay together because of their common link; me. I am their ball and chain, I am why they won’t let go. And now it’s gotten to the point where I am sitting outside my home at 2:30 in the morning spilling my guts to a stranger. I’m sorry, you probably don’t want to hear this” He apologized.
Another apology. I made a mental note and moved on to reassure him.
“No, there’s nothing to apologize for. I wouldn’t have offered to keep you company if I wasn’t open to hearing a little bit of ranting. We all have our demons, some of us try to kill them, oblivious to the body count involved in that process. Others embrace them and raise them as a gift, treating it like a challenge, not an enemy. So I guess the question the rest of us are left with is how we want to approach our conflicts and what type of people we want to be once those conflicts are resolved.” I said.
“What are your demons?” He asked, his curiosity speaking for him.
“I think we can cover that topic another day. Besides, you’re the one sitting outside at 2:30 in the morning spilling his guts to a stranger, I think we should focus on you today.” I said.
I don’t trust easily. I wouldn’t open myself up to someone I just met. There’s a fine line between trusting and being naïve, but I do admire his courage and honesty in the subject.
“Hmm okay I see, I guess we just have to keep some of the mystery alive don’t we?” He said.
I laughed and nodded in agreement.
We continued on the conversation for a while before he got up. I felt a burst of energy from within him and I knew something good was in store.
“I have something I want to show you. It’s somewhere I go to the days where nothing is really making any sense. It’s my go to place for when I’m feeling out of control or overwhelmed. It reminds me it’s okay for things to be hectic. I’m not really sure what your demons are, but I think we tend to forget that life is naturally messy. Not everything will be completely neat all the time, there is no specific order we must all follow.
I was hesitant but I decided I would take the risk. I had already decided tonight I would break schedule, I might as well ride it out until the end.
We had been walking for 20 minutes before we finally found what he wanted to show me. The house that stood in front of me seemed peacefully defeated. A combination of destruction and life decorating it all around. A new land was forming from ruins. Nature was slowly taking back its territory by consuming the invader.
This house used to be a home, now it’s a landmark, a point original in creation and unique in structure. In a neighborhood where all the houses are built to look the same, a house that so obviously defies that is note-worthy. The way man made and naturally made elements combine to form a single compound is unusually incredible.
We start walking through what was once the drive way, but is now a garden in the making, towards the front door. He leads the way, as if walking me towards his own home. It seems well kept, the grass never too long, stray branches that would normally litter the floor nowhere to be found. The house seemed organized yet at the same time not confined to its given space. We reached the front door, one of the only remaining complete structures of the house and walked in.
We didn’t even need to talk to know what we were thinking. Tonight I’ve realized, I’m not the only one with bags under my eyes. We all carry different baggage, and it’s not just me who has trouble falling asleep at night. Insomnia has become a prominent aspect of my life, but it’s my decision the role it will play. I found a corner that seemed to crave my affection and sat down with my back against the wall. This is my life, this is who I am and I don’t need to run from it anymore. My problems don’t weigh me down they allow me to see the world at times where few people get the chance. The ball and chain I seemed to drag behind me is lighter than before.
It’s 4:08 AM and I no longer feel the need to pretend my state of mind matches the standardized guidelines of what I’m supposed to be. It’s okay not to sync yourself with the tide, in this moment I am finally at peace with the currents inside of me. I can sense the fatigue encasing itself in my bones, my thoughts have finally been hushed to create nothing but white noise in my mind. I look at my new friend, and I’m grateful. I smile at him knowing he feels lighter too. I smile to myself, knowing, I may not be getting any sleep tonight but maybe that’s okay.