An owl hooted deep in the dark forest. The mountain breezes rustled the leaves. Frogs ribbited from a nearby pond. Crickets chirped their nighttime songs. The cacophony of nature drifted through the screens of my open windows. No creature was disturbed by a predator slinking through the shadows.
But something had penetrated my sleep, shaking me awake in the wee hours of the morning. What noise had disturbed my slumber? Perhaps the shrill screeching of bending metal as an intruder pried a screen from an open window and slithered inside the house. Yet, no creak of wood floors betrayed a stranger inching toward me.
I lay in my bed, eyes squeezed shut, and listened for ominous sounds. Wouldn’t at least one dog have reacted? Shouldn’t the spoiled clumps of fur have emitted a warning growl? Instead, I heard only one dog snoring while another grunted as he rolled over, but no dog alerted to an approaching danger. Only normal nighttime noises reached my ears, so I convinced myself no threat skulked inside my home.
But why was I awake? Maybe dawn approached and I needed to start the day.
I pried my eyes open and looked around the gloomy bedroom. Pitch-black dark of night loomed outside. No moonlight filtered through the windows. No man-made glow chased away the shadows. No pink glimmer in the eastern sky over the mountain ridges hinted of an imminent sunrise.
No, I had not awaken early. It was the middle of the night.
I rolled over, reached to the bedside table, picked up my cell phone and glanced at the time display. 2:27. Two freaking twenty-seven AM. The middle of the night. Hours before I needed to be awake.
With a deep sigh, I flopped my head onto the pillow, squeezed my eyes shut, and prayed for sleep.
Breathe deep. Relax. Keep the mind in neutral. Don’t think about tomorrow’s tasks. Don’t ponder future phone calls. Don’t dwell on necessary errands. Don’t mentally rewrite that one paragraph that has eluded me so far.
But, wait, if the character’s anger grew, then the scene’s intensity would explode. Maybe if I rearrange that scene, then I could . . .
Screw it. I’m not going back to sleep. I know better. Once awake in the middle of the night, slumber eludes me. It always has.
I suffer from Chronic Maintenance Insomnia. Several nights a week, I awake deep in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep.
Other people suffer from Onset Insomnia, a difficulty sleeping at the beginning of the night. Fortunately, going to sleep in the first place is never a problem for me. By 8 pm most evenings, I am stretched across the bed, surrounded by napping dogs, and reading a novel, the best sleep aid I have ever found. Within an hour or two, I am sound asleep. If it only it would last until dawn.
No competition for which is worse because both maintenance and onset insomnia are painful, but add the word chronic for some real agony.
Acute insomnia is an isolated event, usually brought on by stress. Someone may be so worried by an event in their lives they can’t sleep for a night or two.
That sucks, but try it for night after night for years. Or, in my case, every other night or every third night for years. Welcome to the world of Chronic Insomnia.
So, at 2:27 in the morning, I awoke. By 2:40, I resigned myself to another bout of insomnia and resorted to the only tactic that can bring me a return of blissful sleep. I picked up my half-read novel, put down only a few hours earlier, and read.
The words flew by. The characters lived their lives. The clock ticked, inching toward 3:30, but my tactic worked. My eyes grew heavy. The letters blurred. Sentences became incomprehensible without being read two or three times. Sleep crept upon me. I closed my book, set it on the bedside table, and gently laid my head on the pillow. My body relaxed as sleep overcame me.
Drifting. Fading. Disconnecting from the dark room. Slipping into a dreamy state.
Without explanation and only the haziest of transitions, I sit in my Jeep at an intersection down in the valley though I don’t know my destination. Two cars wait in front of me to turn left. The background noise of nature at night have faded to the clicking of my turn signal.
Click. Click. Click.
The first driver waits, longer than necessary, watching traffic go by, looking for an opening. But not yet. Not now. Need more room.
What is taking so long? Just turn, damn it.
The driver in front of me taps his fingers on his steering wheel. He shakes his head in disgust. He throws his hands in the air, pulls his car into the right turn lane, and passes the first driver while flipping the bird out his window. He guns his engine, zooms into the intersection, and turns left, glaring at the driver who had blocked his path instead of watching the road in front of him.
But I see the imminent danger. Another car, its driver unsuspecting of approaching catastrophe, drives down the main road. Too late, she sees the impending collision. She locks on brakes, smoke billowing from her screeching tires. She blares her horn, the shrill panic blasting our eardrums.
The two cars meet head-on, stopping their progress with a crunch of metal. Airbags explode in powdery white clouds and absorb the worst of the impact, but the violence of the collision tosses both drivers about their cars. Windshield glass shatters and rains down on their bodies. The frames of the cars crumple and fluids splash across the street.
I helplessly watch the horror in front of me and . . . sit up in bed.
What the hell? Why was I dreaming about a car wreck? Not even a car wreck I am in, but one I witness.
But at least I got sleep, right? Please tell me I slept.
With trepidation, I reached for my phone on the bedside table and glanced at its clock. 3:37. I slept for a minute, maybe two. Maybe I even had the dream before I was fully asleep.
The dog in the bed raised his head, looked at me with disgust, and flopped back down with a noisy sigh. Within seconds, the steady breathing of his sleep filled the room. I looked at him with jealousy. There I was, still awake in a dark bedroom. Time to read a little more and try again.
The characters continued their adventures, but the words blurred on the page. Sleep taunted me with its possibility. I set the book down and closed my eyes. My body relaxed and drifted back toward sleep. On the far edge of my shutting down brain, I heard the grandfather clock in the den striking four.
Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.
Maybe a blink of my eyes. Maybe a dream. But the grandfather clock was again chiming the hour.
Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.
Six a.m.? Two hours sleep? I had just closed my eyes. Barely a blink. It can’t be time to get up. Please. Please. Let me sleep a little more.
I opened my eyes. The pink sky over the mountains on the far horizon announced the coming dawn. And in case I had any doubt, the dog on the bed sat up, stared at me, and wanted to know when I would serve breakfast.
The dawn didn’t care I hadn’t slept all night.
And neither did a hungry dog.