Some of my earliest memories in life are tied to the horror I felt about going to sleep. I didn’t become possessed with night terrors or wake up in cold sweats unaware of where I was. I slept soundly and deeply, rarely remembering the thoughts and creatures that whirled behind my eyelids in the enclosure of my mind. Something about slipping into that other world, though, being unaware of what was happening around me, chilled me so much so that I would cry for hours, begging my siblings and parents not to make me sleep alone, to protect me as I drifted into myself.
On my favorite nights, my cool teenage sister would agree to sleep next to me, under the conditions that I didn’t touch her, turned the opposite direction—because she could sense me looking at her even with her eyes closed—and somehow tamed the restless leg syndrome that ensued when I fell asleep. It was like playing hide and seek. The instant you find the perfect nook under the stairwell between suitcases and wrapping paper, you get so excited and focus so hard on being quiet, stealthy, that you absolutely have to pee that instant. To calm me, my sister would sing the latest 90s pop hits, which really only served to increase my excitement over having a pseudo sleepover with my hip sis. She sang Last Kiss by Pearl Jam the most. It’s about a boy and a girl who are in love and they get into a car crash and the girl dies and the guy grieves. Quite morbid for a nighttime lullaby, actually, but my small, emerging mind was cluelessly romanced by it.
I swear that many mornings I woke up with mustard under my fingernails. At many points in life, I’ve convinced myself that that was the downfall of the skinny, hot bod hidden under my cushier layer—I was clearly making Turkey sandwiches in my sleep and simply could not be held responsible for that calorie consumption.
My Mom would try to provide me with a plausible reason for why I couldn’t sleep on her and my Dad’s floor by telling me it was too much exposure to dust mites. Right, Mom, I’m going to believe that there are mites all over the floor and that Santa Claus didn’t land on our roof this Christmas (because I obviously had heard him up there). So I laid my blanket out, and what seemed like six feet above me loomed their majestic bed that emitted a slow and constant rumble. I would lie there and extract the words and sentences woven into my father’s snores that never ceased during 2 am conversations about dust mites. One day, my Father told me that he and my Mom had decided to go their separate ways as if telling me they were running to the grocery store—did I want anything? My mother left that majestic bed and he stayed and rumbled and all I could think about for months when I went to sleep 2,356 miles away was how he could lay there, snoring those rumbling, playful phrases about bears in the clouds that I had heard many years before and not care about my Mom’s absence. And how did he not not wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and realize that her presence was tied to all of those early mornings he’d stumbled out of bed so he didn’t clobber his small daughter lying on the floor.
Last night, I watched my husband next to me on our frameless mattress, the rise and fall of his chest, the sound of obstructed nasal passages kept me wide awake as I stayed in our world and he in his.Sometimes saying goodnight and agreeing to stop doing funny voices and watching Seinfeld is as difficult as parting when one of us flies across the country to see family, leaving the other behind. It doesn’t make him nearly as anxious as it does me, probably because he hates the actors on C.S.I. enough to keep him from watching the many episodes where somebody wakes up to realize their spouse has died right next to them while they were away being somebody else.
I forced myself to slip away last night and she cheated on our husband with an old high school crush. She only kissed him, I think, but it made us feel a small vindication, or satisfaction, about what never happened before that I so wished would have. He was there too, but as some backwoods form of himself, who, upon discovering what she had done, went straight to his trunk in a barbecue stained t-shirt and grabbed his tire iron, out for vengeance. My eyes opened to the rise and fall of his chest, my hand nestled in his short curly hairs, rising and falling with it and I bore the guilt of what she had done all day. This wasn’t the first time she’d slipped up and I assumed it wouldn’t be the last. When we first got married, I’d wake up sobbing for fear I’d done something irreparable and wear puffy eyes and a swollen nasal passage with me to school, despite my utter relief at realizing it was with her in her world that a line had been crossed. Somehow, I think she wants to sabotage our marriage as she parades past loves and missed loves, who now desperately want to be with me, back into my world, and she shows me how easy it would be.
I wonder if his world ever takes him to a similar place. I ask him about the details of his day, even the intricacies of the electrical components of his job that I don’t understand. I question him about his thoughts and feelings about irrelevant things—why don’t you think novelty gifts make a good present? What do you think of putting the trashcan in this corner, or is it better over there? I know you’re colorblind, but do you like this red or this one for the accent wall? We never talk about our dreams though, unless they take us to some place where abstractions are muddled like an acid trip and no ulterior motives can be deciphered without a complex dream guide. And I never ask, for fear he’ll return the question. Because, in truth, I don’t know why she does the things she does when I’m with her. I’d like to think it’s her way of reminding me how happy I am with him, even when I come to her with my eyes already puffy and my face tight from a night that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. Perhaps she doesn’t hate our marriage and she does the adulterous things she does to leave me grateful in the morning that I still have him and our world to share. Maybe she knows I need to see what I’ve missed out on, what I exchanged for him, to help me wake up feeling guilty, affirmed that what I have in our world is what I really want to keep. That’s what I’d prefer to tell myself—that all of me is on the same page of being for our marriage—that we just go about preservation in different ways.
Maybe, though, cheating is something every married person has to consider to some degree in order to actively reject it and maintain the relationship or accept the option and end it and she’s merely carrying that burden for me, knowing that if it crossed my mind in the world I share with him, the guilt would be unbearable. Perhaps my father’s dreamself wasn’t so considerate and the guilt of thinking it, of accepting the option to cheat, wound him so tightly into himself that he could only get out that most crushing statement in a monotoned, shopping trip voice that hung alone in the air, unmoving.
My fear is, of course, that she does the things she does in our world because it’s what we really want for my world. Or, because they know I’ll never let it become my world, so they embody and parade their desires between the hours of midnight and seven, when he’s away in his world. I wonder if the him of his world relishes in hidden away thoughts as well. Or, if he—like he does in all of the romantic tales—merely sits by and thinks of being with me as he waits for morning light to coax him back into the world we share without them.