Sleep doesn’t come.
Sometimes I lie awake on a bed of dinosaur bones, staring at the purple gray of my apartment’s ceiling. Mind racing. There are Mexican children in cages. Children that have been separated from their parents, and no one is doing anything. I personally am not doing anything. Another angry white man has gunned down another dozen people. Thoughts and prayers. And climate change is rapidly making our planet uninhabitable. And the rainforest is literally on fire.
I toss. I turn. I throw off the blanket because it’s too hot. I pull it back up to my neck because it’s too cold. I lie with one leg uncovered as a compromise. I toss and turn some more.
Other nights the lyrics to Taylor Dayne’s 1988 hit, “Tell it to My Heart” replay in my head on an endless loop, and I somehow know every single word.
Some nights the sun comes up and I am still awake.
Some nights I’ll fall asleep for two or three hours, only to wake up with my heart racing. I’ll get up and drink some water. Practice deep breathing. After that I’ll doze off for thirty or forty minutes and then wake up again. This will repeat until my alarm goes off and I have to get up to get dressed for work.
I feel like I slept better when I was sleeping with somebody. But I’ve been an insomniac for so long that it’s difficult to recall if I’ve ever actually gotten a full night’s sleep. It’s probably only nostalgia.
During the hottest part of summer I flew back home to Texas. My mother and I sat on opposite ends of her couch, watching reality TV in her pristine living room that somehow always manages to look unlived in.
I thought, “Now I can finally catch up on my sleep.” A week free from the stress of work. The crisp, cool breeze of air conditioning and the ceiling fan of my teenage bedroom. The pitch black, country dark. The still, quiet nights, disrupted only by a passing train or the lonesome howl of a neighbor’s dog.
But I couldn’t sleep there either.
I chatted with men on apps on my phone, my limbs heavy with unspent desire.
“We have to do something.” My mother said, as we were sitting at the 50’s style soda fountain breakfast table in her kitchen.
Our options within a comfortable driving distance of their rural, Texas town were limited. We ended up going to a flea market in a town about an hour or so away with my aunt and younger cousin. At the entrance there was a booth sporting a giant oversized TRUMP flag on one side, and a confederate flag on the other.
When I stopped to take a picture of the Trump flag, my aunt nodded her approval, not realizing I was taking the picture ironically to post on Facebook to the horror of my liberal friends back on the West Coast.
We walked past stalls selling rusty, old junk. Pot bellied denizens walked by in camouflaged shorts and sports jerseys with confederate flags on ball caps. I felt unsettled and unsafe, but my mother and aunt and cousin were unfazed. I was further disturbed by the fact that no one else was disturbed.
I wonder what they, or any of the people at the flea market, would think if they found themselves suddenly in my neighborhood in Seattle. Would the multi-pierced and polyamorous hipsters, the men holding hands, and the drag queens on unicycles (I have actually seen more than one), disturb them as profoundly as Trump supporters disturb me?
I realized the extent of the liberal bubble I exist in back in Seattle. The extent that social media has allowed us to divide ourselves into these self-selected groups and create filtered realities of the world around us. Alternate facts. Fake news.
I walked from stall to stall, trailing behind my mother, aware of my surroundings, half expecting some General Lee Neo-Nazi to shout, “faggot” as I passed. Of course this didn’t happen. My aunt bought her dog a collar. I talked my mother out of buying another racist “mammy” figurine. We ate cheeseburgers at a picnic table beside a booth where a man made delicious, sweet smelling kettle corn. Then we went back home.
Later that day, my best friend from high-school stopped by on her way from Dallas to Houston.
When we were kids, she’d come by and pick me up in her old, brown pickup truck, and we’d drive to cemeteries and talk about Interview with the Vampire, and poetry, and…more than anything, escape.
Twenty-five years later she came and picked me up again for old time’s sake. Now we talk about equity, jobs, motherhood. There were wisps of gray in her dark hair, and laugh lines beside her cheeks. I have no hair, and my beard is going gray.
I told her about the horrors of the flea market, and she commiserated.
“I have to live here!” She said. Houston, not the small town where we grew up, but still…Texas. “If it weren’t for our group of friends,” she said. “I don’t think I’d have made it.”
She drove me back to my parents’ house. We vowed to stay better in touch, but of course we didn’t.
“What did y’all talk about?” My mother asked, when I got back home.
“About how we’re middle aged now.” I said, rooting through cookie jars for the candy my father is no longer allowed to eat.
“You are not middle aged!” My mother said. “Because that would make me elderly, and I’m in the prime of my life!”
My father asked how my house hunt was going.
“It isn’t.” I’d told him. The condos in my neighborhood are all out of my price range. The ones that aren’t are tiny and overpriced. The places I can afford are so far away that I’d spend hours of my day commuting.
My only hope, aside from my parents finally winning the lottery, is that the supposed coming recession tanks the housing market, and I can take advantage of some desperate seller’s misfortune.
They are selling my grandmother’s house, and we stop by so that my mother can check the mail. The little house that used to be full of memories stands empty. Linoleum worn bare where her couch used to be.
“It’s sad to see it like this.” My mother said, and I agree.
When they drove me to the airport, I tried not to seem too eager to get back to Seattle. They hugged me goodbye, told me they loved me. “Just stay here.” My mother always says with tears in her eyes. This never ceases to gut me.
In the tiny, two plane airport, a young man chatted me up on one of my aforementioned apps. I saw him walk by, checking me out, and instead of speaking to me, he sent me a message telling me he thought that I was cute.
He sat behind me on the plane to Dallas, and when we landed, he suggested we get together for a quickie. That our connecting flights were in different terminals provided me an easy out. While being propositioned by a cute guy in his twenties did wonders for my self esteem, I’m way too big a prude to engage in an airport “quickie.”
I bid him a safe trip to Miami where he was going to spend his birthday. Then I headed back to Seattle.
When I got back home it was late, and I was exhausted from a day of layovers and flying. But Ducky messaged me to meet him out, and since it was his birthday, I found myself splashing some water on my face, brushing my teeth, and heading back out again to spend a few hours in a crowded bar with he and Gar-Bear.
At the local bar, no one hit on me. I stood between the muscle twins in their short shorts, ignored.
Months passed. The summer ended. I got promoted at work. I finished my supposed novel, which is absolutely dreadful, and began a new one. I go out less and less often. Aside from my weekly brunch group, when I hang out with friends, it is because I’ve run into them on accident.
Most recently I had lunch with a friend, his husband, and their six year old son. He and I talked about books, and his husband and I talked about an upcoming event in a particular fetish community. I offered to buy raffle tickets. Because it is Seattle, the six year old asked me my preferred pronouns.
Still, night falls and I cannot sleep.
I go to bed the same time every night. I put blackout curtains over the window to make it dark, though my apartment is never really dark with the varied glows of speakers, surge protectors, game consoles.
Outside there are city noises, randomly yelling homeless men, police sirens, a party in the building next door, the loud bass of a car in the parking lot, a motorcycle revving its engine.
I try earplugs. White noise. But whether there is silence or not, I cannot sleep.
I stop looking at screens an hour before bed. Read. Take melatonin like it’s candy.
I do relaxation exercises.
I try meditation.
Now I think about not falling asleep. I look at the clock to see another hour has passed. I count the hours left that I might sleep if I fall asleep immediately. I absolutely cannot get comfortable until about thirty minutes before the alarm is set to go off. Then my bed is perfectly soft and comfortable. The air is the perfect temperature. My pillow is a fluffy cloud, and I am drifting into the cool sky of a dream.
Then the alarm rings.