I’m doing my best to make it likely I might sleep tonight, after having been bored out of my gourd until 3 AM last night and dead tired when the sun rose. Aside from being visited from time to time by carnivorous dreams, I really love sleeping: it’s wonderful to snuggle into that warm release. I started thinking of all my memories of the places of sleep, and the images intrigue me.
My earliest memory is of a crib in a very tiny room on the ground floor of our house, with the parents far away on the second floor. On the wall was an electric clock in the shape of a black cat with a tail hanging down, and the tail slowly wagged left and right. I did not feel that this cat was my friend, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
My parents had a summer cottage in Michigan, very rustic—wood-stove, outhouse, water from a hand-pump. The place had its own musty piney smell, which I found delicious. I slept in a funny little second-floor room that had a teeny passageway in one wall that was just big enough for a very small person to crawl through into the room on the other side of the wall. I never knew what that was for. I always felt the night was friendly in that room.
Back home in Indiana whenever I was sick I either got bundled up in a puffy comforter in my parents’ bed upstairs or got to sack out on the big couch downstairs. Each one was a different comfort. Upstairs I could practice becoming half an inch tall so I could wander the hills and caves of the comforter. Downstairs on the couch I was on the sidelines and could let the distant conversations lap past like surf, being safely out of reach on the sand.
When my parents went to Michigan for two weeks in the fall hunting season, I would get left with whoever could be persuaded to take me. One set of their friends, an older affluent childless couple, had a very formal house—lots of floor-to-ceiling windows and polished floors and hard surfaces. When I got tucked into the starched sheets in the back guest room, it felt like being taped into a cardboard box. The lady always came to check on me after a while to make sure I had my hands chastely on top of the covers.
The first summer I went to Interlochen National Music camp, I was in a cabin with fifteen other girls, all of us crammed like sardines into bunk beds. Once the giggles and whispers subsided into sleep, it was the warmest and safest I’d ever felt, being surrounded by my big bunch of temporary sisters.
Once the two of us embarked on our years of tent-camping, the nights of snuggling in a double sleeping-bag feeling the warmth of my companion animal while being aware of the cool night air and miscellaneous sounds on the other side of a piece of fabric was an amazing comfort.
One time during my forays in solo travel, I was in a youth hostel in rural Bretagne, and I was the only occupant of that whole wing of the building (it was off-season). From one side I heard the gentle sound of the ocean waves, from the other the soughing of the night-breeze in the tall pines. All I’d had for supper was a small plate of frites and a glass of wine at the bar down the road, and I’d snuggled into bed with ancient Armenian music playing on my iPod while I read “Les Miserables” on its screen. All of that, plus a little shot of Jameson, somehow blended into an absolute paradise.
One of my most sumptuous sleep-experiences was when our son was an infant. Our bedroom, hardly bigger than the bed, had been painted dark burgundy-red. The baby’s bed was the padded cradle atop his stroller, and it was right next to the bed. When he snickered awake in the middle of the night, I could roll to one side, pick him up, and snuggle him for nursing. It made up for my own isolated infancy and made me very contented.
Now I have a bedroom with a high cathedral ceiling and a fireplace facing the bed. Falling asleep to the last flickers of the embers, with my beloved by my side, is something from a fairy-tale. I almost forgive myself for my bouts of insomnia.