I was middle-aged and didn’t know what was happening to my mind. I wasn’t ill. I was tired, but everyone is tired at that age. I had my aches and pains. More sleep would have always been welcome, any day of the week, even if I’d already slept two days straight. More sleep, yes please, my body would say, and slurp up the hours like a dog by an open hydrant on a hot day, if anyone with the power to offer me gushes of time to sleep had done so.
My friend’s child smiles when she sees me and reaches out her arms. My friend says she likes me. But when her mother extends her arms to hand the little girl to me the girl cries and clings to her. Her mother and I smile as the girl puts her head on her Mom’s shoulder and looks at me. Her Mom tries to laugh at this but anyone can see that the effort to extend the child, who is now over twenty pounds, and suddenly return the child to her chest has caused her some pain she’s trying to ignore. She was hoping for a few minutes of having the child away from her, to not feel her weight, and to imagine days ahead where she can stand on her own, go run and play.
I had been each of these parents and children. Life with and without sleep had taken me closer and further away. The age of time within me was settling, with the denser material settling mostly, but occasionally launched upwards and sent clanging around by the power of deep jets of memory bursting forth. It’s a little hard to explain, of course. If all was well I could see it quite clearly and tell the story with the snap of my fingers, the click of my tongue, a sharp clap of my hands and you’d know instantly what I mean. But exhaustion contorts the path. Maybe no one wants to hear about tiredness. But the story of individual tiredness is interesting. People act crazy while tired. Worlds turn on the decisions of tired people. Wars have been fought, loves have been lost. To sleep like the dead and have the chance to awake again feels like a miraculous thing. Tiredness is so boring, everyone says, everyone’s tired. But tell them you had a sexy dream or a dream you’ll never forget and they’ll listen for a few seconds at least. Dreams feed the living imagination with fruits from the furrows of tiredness. Collective exhaustion is fertile ground.
When my child was still little, only able to walk a few steps at a time, friends would say at times when I looked tired that it wouldn’t be long before he could do more for himself. I would nod and smile and they would try to keep a stiff upper lip as I openly doubted their effort to be sympathetic. To say “it won’t be long” was to try and compress the next year or two between my resolve and my hope that the child would crave independence. The magic spell involves several ingredients to transform time. Every minute will still have to be lived, though, slowly, often in pain, and tired, of course, with fresh despair carefully washed of any pesticides, until it’s ready to be grated over the bowl, and mixed into the next couple of years of parenting thoroughly. Once prepared, the spell takes several months to gain full effectiveness. By that time the friend who gave you the recipe may have moved on to another town or spouse. They wanted to escape seeing you so tired but it has found them or someone they love and now they laugh together with the same song of tiredness. They’ve given in and can’t remember ever resisting. It’s the same with politics and revolutionaries, of course.
Instead of sleep or sex I take walks in the dark in the woods behind our house. Except when I step out the back door I see again that I don’t live anywhere near the woods. I have to make do instead. I stand still and let the night air shape me.