These days, at least around my house, sleep is like an errant teenager. It comes home late, sneaks out early, or locks the door and does all manner of things we won't talk about in pleasant company.
It's always worried.
When it does address you, it is sullen and what it relates is unsatisfying.
And no one is exempt.
I can hear sniffling from two rooms away.
And now there's a cough.
“I can't sleep,” announces the smallest voice, not a bit raspy from actually trying.
A light snaps on … and then off.
The toilet flushes. And then the faucet on the sink opens up.
But it doesn't close all the way.
There are footsteps back to bed.
It just seems to get louder by the drop.
Soon, however, the girl can't stand it. She growls and swings open her door, using every ounce of her being to pound against the floor in protest as she turns off the tap and the light.
Her noise inferring neither were not her responsibility … but there she was putting herself out to have quiet if not peace.
“I need to sleep!” she announces into the air, knowing it would reach her brother … and her parents, who haven't twisted his arm any to toe the line.
The door slams and there is a roil of bedclothes.
Her unfinished thoughts persist in a tumult of tossing and turning.
We are half past the time where I can help. Now I have to wait for her to come to me.
And even then I have to be resigned to the notion that I can only listen and offer suggestions she won't take.
She has to make her own mistakes. And then blame me for them.
More tossing. More turning.
Sleep can't come in just yet.
And it won't visit the boy while it waits, either.
Sleep scrunches its shoulders and listens in the hallway for its chance.
The boy pushes past it once again and appears at my bedroom door in his too-small pajamas – his second visit in the half hour – rattling off complaints about the determination of Sleep to stay at a distance. It won't come … or it won't stay.
He is afraid bad dreams will hover over him in the upper bunk.
He doesn't want to count sheep or think any happy thoughts, the only two suggestions I have. And so I follow him to his room and settle down alongside him waiting for this errant guest to arrive.
I will know it by the deep and rhythmic breathing …
and the sound of questions turning into the sound of snoring.
“What's that noise?”
It's a tree limb rubbing against the house.”
“You can't really dig all the way to China, can you?”
“No, you really can't.”
“Are snakes nocturnal?”
“Are they diurnal?”
“Well then, what are they?”
They're cold-blooded, so they're active when they need to be and when it works out temperature wise. Could be night, could be day. It depends.”
But wake-life of reptiles isn't what's keeping him up. It's something else.
“Do I need glasses?”
“Probably. Maybe. I don't know,” I hedge. “We'll have to wait and see.”
“But I can see now. Why do we have to wait?”
“You see now the way you've always seen. But after you get tested you might see better. Then you'll actually see.”
Before he can ask another question, I remind him of my purpose here in the dark: To help Sleep find its way into the room. Because no good things will come if sleep doesn't visit.
And even if no good things ever come, you'll need Sleep even more.
“You really don't make sense when you talk.”
“I think I need your Sleep.”