I’ve had insomnia for most of my adult life. Not always for long and not always deep. Fretful sleep. A short recurring nightmare that jerks me awake, covered in cold sweat, heart hammering.
One summer, though, I had so much trouble staying asleep that I gave up and started walking at 3:30am. I wore a borrowed-for-life black hoodie, thinking that the color, bulk, shapelessness would protect me from trouble. And red Chuck Taylors, a pair of Converse so lucky and important to me that I buried them in the backyard of my family home when they finally fell apart.
I hoped walking would tire me and quiet my mind, which was filled with longing and questioning that I thought was special and unique. But, which was the same stuff we all walk around with. I was lonely in my terrific life.
I looked up most at the time. Thought about patterns and lights and the other people awake at the painful hour. Parents, addicts, late night tv shoppers, shift workers, sous chefs coming down from service, depressed adults, lovers who couldn’t stop talking. I felt at one with them, knowing that we would struggle through the day together. Foggy and slow, in the half world of awake and asleep.
I began to think that the lights were a sign sent by the universe. That if I looked hard enough, they would tell me what I needed to know. I’d lean on a tree and stare up at the tall buildings but they were too massive and stubborn to reveal their secrets. I couldn’t see enough. Couldn’t pull far enough away to read the message. What if it was my angle that was wrong? Had I missed it by one light that blinked off just before I looked up?
I found crosses and misshapen hearts. Never words. A straight line of windows across a building on 57th Street made me wonder if I should call 911. The Dakota always seemed darker than other buildings, hooded and serene.
The job was not doable. Not by me certainly. The city too big, too variable. And after a week or so of nocturnal walks, I started to sleep again.