The restorative powers of sleep. (Not.)

Sleep, with all its remarkable restorative powers – to renew, to recharge, to dream. Then we wake refreshed, and begin a new day.

No. There are no restorative powers of sleep for me, only restless legs, flailing about, waking repeatedly, disturbing dreams. The morning. Too soon.

A knock on my door. It is not yet dawn. “Yes, who is it?” I say. I sit up in bed. But there was no knock, and the alarm won’t buzz for more than an hour as I’ve been yanked from a place that is warm, though sorrowful. There was a child in my arms and now the child is gone. So I begin what is a mechanical routine: I shuffle to the kitchen, wash my hands, spoon coffee into the filter, add water from the tap, flick the switch.

Morning, and interrupted sleep

Morning arrives unrelenting, as it has since the years of babies waking and needing to be fed. My babies are young men now, yet the insomnia persists in cycles. I’ve grown accustomed to its rhythms; I work around them.

I watch the coffee as it drips, realizing how chilly it is. I return to the bedroom and I try to find a way back to my dreaming. I am always looking for a way back to something, to see more closely.

Restless sleep, restless legs, active dreaming

Sleep is the unreliable lover. The oldest burden, since childhood, this waking frequently and much too soon. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I pace. Bits of dream may enliven me, so I let them roll around on my tongue and brighten my day in its infancy, even at three in the morning. Darker bits of nightmare are bothersome, like rough morsels of food caught between my teeth. They irritate. They are not nourishing. Then I rush to the bathroom to turn on lights, brush, spit. To rinse away the foulness.

I open my laptop and try to channel these first thoughts waking, to make sense of them, to dance with them, poking, cajoling, now pulling at a fingertip to reveal the hand, coaxing the hand into the light. Next the arm, the shoulder, the torso – so I may have more, know more, surround myself with more images, comforting even in shadow.

The coffee is ready.  An old machine can still do its job.

Using dreams to understand ourselves

  • What do we whisper to ourselves in sleep that we cannot articulate awake?
  • What passages are we invited to enter, however dimly lit?
  • Why can’t we hang on to the clarity, take those steps, our eyes newly opened?

In my dreams, there are rarely discernible features, though I know who inhabits each body. I know when I am inside an unfamiliar figure, another mind, another set of limbs, another sex. This is freedom: a kind of soaring while retaining the self, able to light inside an alien skin. In my dreams, only strangers have faces. They own their eyes, they own their noses, they own their lips that part when they utter a sound.

Sometimes, I travel to places I have lived. I travel through time and visit those who are gone. Sometimes I can speak to them as an adult. Sometimes I am still a child and mute, or an adult and mute. Sometimes, I try to claw my way out of the dream knowing that I am not awake, knowing that I have missed an opportunity. To demand respect, or explanations.

I wake at a loss. I wake remembering. But I am writing now.

Perhaps this is the dream.

The power of dreams

Do you sleep well? Do you remember your dreams? Are your populations recognizable?

These are questions I’ve been known to ask near-strangers. At times they look at me oddly, but I genuinely want a response. To know a man, I want the retelling of his dreams. I want their imprint in his own words, a suggestion of their mysteries. I need to know if my lover will sleep coolly through my flailing, or lay his quiet hand against my skin, and will himself inside of me.

First dream, first waking

First dream in my first waking: I am clutching a small pillow. Not leaning on it as I usually do, because of my weak arm and shoulder. Clinging to it for dear life, holding it close to me like a child, my child, as though someone is trying to pry him away.

I had fallen asleep dressed, to the noise of the television; as I dragged myself out of the darkness I tell myself  “I am in  a dream. I am comfortable here. But I cannot straighten my arms or I will drop this tiny pillow. If I drop this pillow, then I can fly.”

Second dream, second waking

Second dream in my second waking: a butterfly, a flicker of lightning. Then nothing. I toss the covers aside, hot. I pull them over me again, cold. My legs bristle. The light is gone.

Third dream, morning rising

Third dream in my morning rising: I am somewhere in the countryside, rural America, as though in a photograph by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. I stand on a worn front porch, a house of silvery, splintering clapboard. Everything is black and white and gray. My skin is gray. I have a face that is not my own, hair that is not my own, a furrowed brow, creases along my down-turned mouth.

This is despair, the Great Depression, the time of my mother’s stories. Now I think: You may dismiss me, but at last you will see me, you will listen, you will not be fooled. This is the face of the poor. I know that it frightens you.

I hold a child, leaned on my hip to spare my arms. She is another woman’s child; I have a house full of sons and this is a daughter, a toddler, smiling and dressed in a bright pink pinafore with a little white collar. She has ruddy cheeks and a runny nose. She is the spot of color against the shades of gray, raising a tiny hand as I lift my free arm to wave. “I will take care of her,” I say, to a woman walking away.

Why do we dream?

Are we powerful in our dreams? Or are we powerless to fight them? Is that their magnificence, that we must stay and participate, that we cannot run away without retaining something of their gift?

Outside it is 39 degrees. There will be frost on the windshield, red leaves flaming against a piercing, liquid sky. It is my autumn, and it is daylight.
© D A Wolf