Imagine it’s 4:13 am. You’re lying in bed with your head where your feet go and your feet on your pillow. Your right arm lies limp, phone in hand, casting a dim light on the ceiling. You should be sleeping. You have no more to stories read, no more pictures to look at, the more things to look up. Your eyes hurt and beg to be closed but you don’t sleep. Instead you roll over and open instagram for the sixth time and scroll through the pictures you’ve already seen.
You have no problem with sleeping or falling asleep. When you fall asleep all the muscles you didn’t know you were using start to tingle, then relax. The world fades to white noise and your body gets that cozy kind of warm. Sometimes after lying still with your eyes closed for a while you start to feel weightless and the bed feels more like the porch bench swing you once sat on when you were a kid. You love it. While you’re sleeping you get to see the most wonderful stories. During the day you have to scroll through webcomics and flip through books and stare at screens to get stories and to create your own you have to put in so much work for something you can’t even see, but in sleep it’s there and it’s easy and no matter how random and convoluted it still makes sense. Even though you can never seem to remember a sense of touch you feel fear and love and it’s perfect and you love it. You’re issue it’s with sleeping, it’s with waking up.
When you open your eyes in the morning your stomach feels as if it has shrunk. Your chest feels like it wants to expand but there’s a weight pressing down on it and your throat drops down into your chest cavity. You try to take deep breaths in through your nose, in through your mouth, but there’s a sharp pain right under your collar bone followed by a dull burn. Then you realize what this feeling is. It’s the feeling when you’re taking shallow breaths and you breath in too fast. It’s the feeling you got when you pretended to hyperventilate that one time, just to see what it felt like. It feels something like how you remember fear. And somewhere in you brain the idea that if you move it will only get worse appears, so you just lie there. You lie on you side and stare at the door and try to distract yourself with your phone and it’s hard to breath and you’re afraid, but you don’t know what of. The joint between your legs and hips starts to ache because there’s some muscle somewhere that’s been tense since you woke up but you don’t know which one. No matter how much you stretch and bend you legs the tension won’t go away and you’re afraid.
Eventually the burning feeling sinks lower and lower, then fades to a light squeeze on your chest and a heavy stomach. This is when you roll out of bed and drag yourself, phone in hand, out the door and into the bathroom to brush your teeth. You hate it.
So who can blame you when it’s 4:13 am and you really, really don’t want to go to sleep.
Tonight the moon is too close. Instead of being the size of a penny it looks bigger than a quarter and it glows a murky yellow-brown. As you look at it through the windshield of the car, right above the trees and right next to the driver’s seat headrest, you comment that it’s so yellow tonight. No one answers. So you lean your left side against the car door and watch moon.
Tonight is humid. The tiny car, jam-packed with as many people as it can fit, is slowly warming up. Your little brother’s head falls onto your arm with a soft thump. The spot on your arm starts to feel sticky under your sweatshirt. Then his head lolls forward. You twist around and gently lift his head. It’s heavier than you expected. You turn, then rest his head on top of your shoulder, then lean back on the car door and look out at the moon.
Tonight the highway is only scattered with cars but it’s noisy. The illuminated stretch of pavement in front of you is empty and on the other side of the concrete barrier is a crooked line of headlights that stretches out and over the hill. The engine is grumbling and when you cross over to older pavement it switches to a low airy murmur and the car starts to vibrate sending tingles through your hip. Every time a car passes there’s a muffled zip and after a while it becomes almost rhythmic. Whir…zip…whir…zip…whir… zip…whir…zip.
Suddenly the car gives a little jerk and your dad slaps his forehead and groans, “Oh! I forgot something in the house.” Suddenly there’s conversation about what was forgotten and what should be done ripping through the sticky silence and suddenly there’s turning onto exits that makes you unsure whether you’re going to go back or go on. You can hear your breathing. Your head’s faintly aching. Then you realize you can no longer see the moon.
Shouting. In a big wooden house right in the middle of Lawrence Street, far back from the road, guarded by a line of bushes and trees, you pull the blanket over your head and your computer and push your earbud father into your ears. Some people say the house’s walls look almost orange. Others like to comment on how massive and amazing it must be. Most people, once they’ve entered the place, just gush about the pool. Today all there is is shouting.
You come home to this house in Novembers and Decembers and in Marches and Junes. Groaning irritably you drag yourself out of the backseat of the car, then take charge of your rolling suitcase and drag that inside. Your little brother always runs in ahead and will, with a 70% probability, forget to close the car door behind him. Your parent cary in the mail, layering on whispered phrase after phrase about how much they love having you home. And you smile a little. You’re home.
Sitting in front of the piano, your laptop open on the bench, you can hear your dad angrily dial the number for credit card help. Out of the corner of your eyes he’s just a little blur of navy blue in huge white socks pacing back and forth. Then there’s shouting. He stops pacing and puts the phone on speaker and there’s shouting and shouting and shouting. We canceled the card. You’re sending us bills and then late fees for bills we don’t have to pay. I can check. Fix this! Sir I can’t do anything about this right now but- Shouting. Shouting. Shouting.
You shoot up and leave the safety of the music room to grab a blanket, then shuffle back to your spot in front of the piano as fast as you can. You force yourself to sit down slowly, take the time to cross your legs and wrap the blanket around yourself in a way that doesn’t tangle your hair. The shouting gets louder, though, so you tug the blanket over your head. You turn the volume of your movie up, but you can still here him shouting. You can still tell exactly what he’s saying and your stomach is starting to swim and it’s getting hard to focus on the screen even in your warm cave of blood red light and you can’t take it anymore. There’s shouting and more shouting and you think this is why people hate their jobs it’s because of people like us and people like you who don’t do a thing and suddenly your hiding place is suffocating so you throw back the blanket to breath. Finally breath in the cool air of a house unused. And suddenly it stops. There’s no more shouting, just your chest aching from your heart beating too fast and a quiet scene in a movie with the volume turned all the way up.