The Surreal Stillness of the Night

A strange part of me came to life in the surreal stillness of the nights I spent trying to sleep in strange places. It wasn’t born in one night of my youth, or in one morning after, but it occurred over the course of decades of insomnia nights spent in other people’s homes. I was never one who could just sleep anywhere. I had to have my pillow, my blankets, my room temperature, my environment, and my comfort level. Yet, when someone would invite me for a sleepover, I would jump at the chance. 

midnightI loved spending the night at other people’s homes, but I could never sleep there. I loved the days I spent with friends, and I loved the nights. I loved sitting around telling ghost stories, talking about football and girls, and hating on the teach, but I dreaded the moment their Mom would step in the room and say, Okay, it’s time for bed now guys.” I knew I would be forced to lie there, still, and silent, looking at their furniture, the ceiling splotches, and their trinkets. I knew there would be nothing to do, other than finding sleep. I knew I would envying my friends for their ability to sleep, and I knew their trinkets would come to life, but I had no idea that a strange part of me would come to life as a result.

When a kid is at another person’s house in those after midnight hours, they can’t just flip on the tube, run outside to check out the various comings and goings of the neighborhood, or snoop through their stuff. Doing any of these things will be regarded as incredibly impolite. If the kid is a normal kid, and the only reason they’re invited to stay over is based on the idea that they’re normal, they learn to lie there quietly and just hope that the dream world will eventually take them. If they’re anything like me, it never does, because they can’t sleep in strange places. They’re trapped in their bed, inside their head, in a cell called insomnia.

Trinkets have little-to-no value to anyone during the day. They had no value to me either, during the day. They were something on a table. They were a Civil War-era cannon placed in the middle of a living room table? They were small items that said funny or wise things on them. There was a reason that they were selected, but I could never understand what those reasons were. I never understood how a person selected one trinket over another. Do they depict the person we are, or the person we want to be? Some of them are funny, as I said, but they’re not too funny. Too funny can make a person seem simple. If there was a grand design my friend’s parent’s had in mind when they chose the trinkets, I didn’t know what it was, and I spent hours trying to figure it out.  

My life had no grand design, but I was a kid. I lived day to day, but I thought everything an adult did had some kind of grand design to it, and I thought their trinkets reflected that. On the rare occasion when I knew the adults well enough to ask them about the agenda they had in selecting their trinkets, I was often disappointed. “I just like it is all,” was the crux of their response. Most of them would see my disappointment and look at me strangely. Hey, you bought them, I wanted to say. I wanted to tell them that they should have some sort of agenda, that led to their preferences. Life shouldn’t be so random that one just buys a cute, little ceramic frog, because it’s cute and little and ceramic. That’s chaos. Trinkets should speak to your personality, your narrative. I don’t have an agenda now, I would think, but I’m a kid. You should’ve figured something out about life that you could teach me. So, you’re saying that these things are just taking up space, so your coffee table isn’t bare. Is this why you have fruit and flower paintings on the wall, because you hate empty spaces? Or, is your life devoid of meaning? I don’t mean to sound condescending, but you have to give me something here! No matter what your friend’s parents say, all of these trinkets take on a special meaning in the surreal stillness of the night when you’re the only conscious person politely enduring the hours of silence and stillness.

There was a band member with a ten foot drum tied to his waist sitting on one of my friend’s nightstands. The band member had a broad smile on his face that suggested that he was very proud of the station he had achieved in life. There was a panda bear, on the other nightstand that had an arm sticking out for someone to put keys or a watch on. There was a small, replica cannon that one could roll around on a coffee table. What went into these choices, I would wonder to myself. I knew they would say it was nothing, but there had to be some reason that they chose these trinkets to decorate their living room. There had to be something meaningful that I could discern from these otherwise, mundane products.

A clock had grand embroidering on its flanks. It took the shape of a starfish with incongruity in its flanks. I remember wondering if it would be seen as classy among the elite interior design consultants. It had bland, black colors on its flanks with a silver middle, but the interior design elites often complimented that which was bland. The experts often insulted that which stood out with bright colorization. They called that loud. I remember wondering if anyone would stare up at this clock and say: “Now that’s a clock.” Whatever value it may have had during the day was exaggerated throughout the never-ending nights I spent staring up at it.

A horse was depicted raised up on its haunches, and the man on the horse was drawn back. I don’t know if it was General Custer, but that was the image often associated with Custer. I remember wondering if anyone ever talked about this piece. Did anyone ever pick it up, and examine it, and talk about it? Did it have any value beyond taking up space?

That’s what trinkets are I decided on one of these sleepless nights: objects designed for the sole purpose of taking up space. As the hours passed, and my delirium weakened me, I began to assign feelings to these trinkets. I saw them as lonely objects in need of attention. When the day returns, I promised myself, I would assign some sort of value to them. I would pay attention to them when no one else would. I would ask their owners about them, and I considered the idea that these questions might console the trinkets into believing that they had some value.

I would play and replay these conversations in my mind. I would provide my listener with better retorts. The retorts I gave them, during the day, proved insufficient. I would watch them laugh at these new retorts. I would rewrite their impressions of me, based on these new retorts. 

I would then drift into other conversations that occurred on other days. I would remember my responses to things said, and some of the times I would cringe. I would correct those conversations the next time I saw that person. I thought of the perfect responses that would lay out those who sought to damage my image. Some of the times, I would accidentally laugh aloud when I would recall those heroic moments when I cracked a real zinger off. I would look at my friend to make sure he was still asleep, and then I would remember how everybody laughed, and I would think of them considering my comedic value. I would accidentally laugh aloud again.

As the hours stretched on, and my stress level and delirium began battling for dominance, I would picture how mouths moved when people spoke. I would picture their eyebrows twitch when they made expressions. I would think about how everyone took turns speaking, and how no matter how many people are in a room there is always a pecking order. I would think about clothing choices, and why one person drove a jeep and another drove a VW bug. I would think about how some people chewed their food, and I would remember that Al Gaeta didn’t mind if his Jello and his mashed potatoes mingled. “It all comes out the same!” he said. I thought about how I was going to work that into a conversation one day. I would think about how some achieved dominance in the everyday of life and others were forever caught in a subservient role. I would become so focused on the minutiae of life that it drove me to sanity’s border.

These moments were stressful, unhappy moments in my life that would congeal with later experiences in life to gestate into the material that sits before you now. It wasn’t born in one night, or in one morning after, and I’m appreciative of those moments that bore such fruit, but if becoming normal is dependent on getting the required amount of hours of sleep, I would’ve much preferred sleep.

Time flies by in life, and it flew by in mine, but there were agonizing nights spent at friend’s homes when time slowed to a crawl. In these moments, I agonized and celebrated small moments in life, and I began to examine and re-examine those moments, until I began to wonder if anyone else in the world had these moments. I realized that the simple act of sleeping was the mind and the body’s attempt to recuperate from the day. I wondered if anyone valued their lives, and the fact that when we all woke we would be granted another day, the way I had in these early morning hours. When they wake and speak to me, I decided that I would pay special attention to them, for in these wee hours of the morning communication between humans becomes a little more surreal to me.

There were times when we would play those sleeping games. When there were six or seven of us, the first one down faced the wrath of the rest of the group. We would jam Trolli worms up their nose, or put shaving cream in their hand and tickle their nose, so that they would jam shaving cream up their nose. Needless to say, I was never that guy. Once the laughter died down, and everyone settled into sleep, I would be left on the other side of the joke: The only one still awake. The punishment was different for that guy.

When I eventually awoke, I realized that I had been granted some sleep, but I was so tired that I didn’t want to engage in the customary conversations of the day. I wanted to forget all that I thought about in the grips of delirium and frustration, and just go home and catch up on some of the sleep I lost at their house. I hated my friends for inviting me over, I hated them for wanting to speak to me in the morning, and I hated them for having a house. I also hated their trinkets. All those questions I dreamed up about the trinkets the night before, were forcefully pushed out of mind. I didn’t even want to think of them. All I wanted was some sleep.

I returned their good mornings, those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed good mornings, and I smiled when Buggs Bunny did something funny. Normal kids find Buggs Bunny funny, and I wanted to be normal. For one day, in my otherwise abnormal life, I wanted to be normal. I did hate Buggs Bunny for being funny, on these mornings, and I loathed my friends for being so simple-minded as to laugh at something specifically written to generate a laugh. I would decide, in the throes of this delirious morning, that when I returned to the normal world, I would do things that other people considered normal, so they could enjoy being around me. I decided not to tell those who liked me, and cared about me, what went on inside my head as a result of so many delirious nights, over so many years, but a person can only take so many of these blows without being affected by them.

I’ve heard some creative types say that anyone that has creative inclinations should use hallucinogenic drugs to supplement the creative centers of their brain. I’ve heard some creative types suggest that they cannot imagine approaching a creative project without, at the very least, experimenting with such substances. I found the alternative. I’ve heard some people say that taking even one hallucinogenic drug forever alters the brain in ways I’m sure these creators spoke of, but I would suggest that anyone that wants to be creative spend a portion of their youth without sleep. It forces the mind to concentrate on minutiae the mind otherwise would not, the surreal stillness of the night focuses the mind on all of the conversations the person has had throughout the day, until they’re editing, and rewriting, those conversations in a creative manner, and it affects the mind in a way that’s nearly unalterable. If the reader has read through a number of the pieces we’ve provided here, and they decide that they don’t want their children to be anything like that, they should check in on their kids every once in a while to sure they’re getting enough sleep.

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