My mom had recurring bouts of sleeplessness. Always anxious about something, she wandered around the house at night, her hair wild, blue robe cinched tightly around her tiny waist.
She would come into our bedroom in the early morning hours, and I’d wake up to the tapping of her long red finger nails on the window pane. After 6 or 7 sleepless nights, she was weary, confused, out of control. Then it was off the the doctor’s office “to get mommy straightened out.”
She was also prone to walking and talking in her sleep. On those nights I’d wake up to her standing over me, eyes opened but unresponsive. I learned to jump up before my little sister was disturbed, and lead mom gently back to bed. I loved to tuck the covers in around her, and kiss her on the forehead.
A child myself, I thought my mother’s sleep walking was exciting, and even funny, in a scary sort of way. I was thrilled to play such an important role in this drama, and secretly longed to be the star of the show. Night after night I willed myself to walk and talk in my sleep. I wanted to be just like my wild, beautiful mother. Every morning I would pronounce to my dad that I had been sleepwalking, hoping that he would confirm with some interesting details. Nope. After a few months, I figured this willing wasn’t working, so I concocted an alternative plan.
One night, awakened by laughter, I quietly got out of bed, and tiptoed past my sleeping sister. I shuffled heavy footed down the hall to where my mom and dad were watching tv. Entering the room with eyes closed, I walked directly into a wall, bumping my nose, thereby proving that I was sound asleep. My dad reached for me. When I felt his touch, I called out “Jump off the train!”, just I had heard my mom call out in her sleep a few nights before. Opening my eyes, I told them both that I had been sleepwalking, was very upset, and suggested that hot cocoa with marshmallow fluff would calm me enough to go back to bed.
I repeated this behavior when ever I awoke in the night. Usually, they shut the tv off quickly when I entered the room, and I got a stern “Go back to bed!”. Occasionally, no one said anything. On those nights, I would stand still, pretending to be asleep, and wait. If I smelled chocolate, I knew I had won the prize. A beautiful cup of warm cocoa, white marsh mellow fluff peaking out at the rim, would arrive from the kitchen, accompanied by a plate of crispy saltines. Excited pleasure filled me as I inhaled those delicious aromas. My mom would pat the cushion next to her on the couch, I would jump up, and we would cuddle while I drank the cocoa. I often fall asleep in her lap, and was surprised when I awoke in my own bed in the morning.
Night Eating Danger Zone
Now, many nights I awake at 2:00am. I lie in bed for a few minutes and watch my husband sleeping next to me. Thinking about my mom becomes a pressure around my heart.
Pulling on my robe, I go down to the kitchen. Two cups of cocoa, toast with butter and jam, cheese, apple, graham crackers, and New Yorker cartoons.
Sleepy now, and feeling bloated, I consider going back to bed, but another old pattern calls out to me…”You could just step into the bathroom and purge of all of this…..easy.”
I put my head down on the table, I see my son and husband, my friends, standing over my grave.
“You made your self sick, you did this to yourself. You choose bulimia over me.”
“I loved you, and you lied to me, again and again and again.”
“You left me, I was never enough for you.”
Quickly up the stairs without stopping to brush my teeth – bathrooms are dangerous – and get into bed. I must distract myself . The lyrics to an Aretha Franklin song pop into my mind…”I say a little prayer for you, forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart, and I will love you…forever, forever”.
I picture my husband and son, my best friends, my studio, the roses, the oak tree, my new boots, and focus on the love. Focus on the love. It’s 4am, the room is dark. Maybe I could get some sleep.