I’ve been sleeping earlier and earlier these days, slowly making my ways towards a normal corporate slave schedule and happy to do it. All those things mum and da said about getting sun and eating right? They weren’t kidding. Halfway there.
So after hanging up on a friend because she called me “Petey,”1 I settled in for a pleasant, early sleep at around midnight. Which is as early as I’ve slept in as long as I can recall. I’m really tired. I was really looking forward to it.
Now since it’s getting cold out, I turned off the fan which has been running for almost four months straight. Since I stopped falling asleep to Buffy, I’ve started playing mp3’s of Douglas Adams books at night to help me get to sleep. This could be a comfort thing; I fell asleep to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy every night for about eight years when I was growing up. It was a fantastic version; the sound effects were just so, the voice a perfect English cant; you couldn’t ask for more from a book on tape. I started listening to them on the advice of my parents when I was a kid. This was because I discovered nightmares at a relatively early age, of the kind that make me shudder to this day. They were nightmares to the point of fever dreams. They were kafkaesque visions of torture and fear that still make me wonder if there isn’t some judeo-christian set of afterlives that toss out little demo versions into kids’ heads at night.
To deal with these, I discovered that I could convince my younger brother to come into my room and sleep on the other bunk at night. The first time I did this, he got in trouble for it. I kept my mouth shut. I couldn’t face the nightmares alone, and I discovered insmonia at age five, so there were about three hours between bedtime and being tired enough to forget how frightened I was. I hadn’t discovered cigarettes or booze yet, so that left getting a wingman to be around for those three hours.
Then, since he got in trouble the first time, I assumed with my little child’s brain–because kids really are just dumb, and rarely gifted in any practical way–that it was a Bad Thing for him to be in there, and damned if I was going to get blamed for it. So every night that I couldn’t sleep alone in the dark, I convinced him to get on the top bunk for a few hours, and then I would turn him in to my parents, and he would get in trouble. He was too young, and too tired to understand why he kept getting woken up and why everyone was telling him he wasn’t supposed to be doing whatever he was doing at the time. Especially since all he was actually trying to do was sleep.
I’m sure I traumatized him for life. Whether or not I did, I did get busted. In the very act of convincing him to get up, with the classic line “Mom and Dad want you to sleep in my room,” which usually worked despite mounting evidence to the contrary, who should throw open the other door to his room but Dad. I dashed straight back through our shared bathroom and hid under the covers.
Dad never yelled. He was saving it up for that night. All he said was, “Maybe I’ve been punishing the wrong person all this time.” Hearing the raised voice of a person who never raises their voice is one of the most shocking experiences on the planet. Turning around and being hit in the face with a baseball still takes second place for me.
Since I spent the entire next day in tears, so much so that I was sent home from school, my parents decided something deeper was going on here, and my mom asked me what was up. I started with, “I can’t sleep”, and eventually got around to “I don’t like the people chains in my head”. My parents were somehow enlightened enough to not send me to a psychiatrist. Instead they gave me a tape player, and Grimm’s Fairytales, and that worked just fine. Eventually, I went through every tape in the house, including a few incomplete sets, giving me many dim memories of stories to which I don’t know the end. Finally, I came to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and that kept me going for the rest of the decade.
All the tapes are worn out now, and only play garbled vowels. So I downloaded the read-by-the-author editions off Limewire, which are almost as good, and unabridged, so longer, and more conducive to the three-hour process of stamping out consciousness. The important bit is that I can only fall asleep to narratives. Music won’t do it. It’s too involving. Even Mozart won’t do it. I need a voice and a story, preferably one I already know, to get my mind drifting into the proper pre-sleep free association. And it has to be at just the right volume.
So with the fan turned off, and the book playing at that perfect volume, there’s nothing left to drown out the beeping coming from my neighbor’s apartment. It’s been four days. I know what it is, because the timer on my apartment’s stove makes exactly the same noise. It’s a fantastic timer, because once you hear that particular noise, there is nothing in your life more pressing than not hearing it anymore.
The other feature of this timer is that it’s part of the stove clock, and all you have to do to switch between clock and the timer is hit a little button. It would be easy to hit this button by accident. It would be just as easy to hit it by accident and then leave town.
One day wouldn’t have been so bad. Two, I can understand. If you’re going to leave for more than that, just check. Take a little extra care in what you’re leaving behind. Is the gas off? Great. Always check the gas. In fact, Honey, since we’re leaving for the week, why don’t you shift your eyes up about seven inches and see if we’ve turned off the timer?
I can see this not happening. It clearly didn’t happen about 96 hours ago, and during the 4800 hours before that, it never occurred to me that the most hideous thing I would encounter in my transition to New York would be someone leaving their oven timer on.
I will never forgive these people. I don’t even know them. I just know that right now, they are the most evil and villainous wretches ever to crawl out their mothers’ poisoned wombs, because they are responsible for that sound. Every single beep is a tiny little slap to the back of my eyeballs, keeping me from sleep, keeping me from enjoying the final snuggling into the sheets, something it took me years of struggle, betrayal, and training to learn to enjoy.
I am not strictly an evil person. I just want these people to know about all this, and I want them to wonder that if I could consistantly cojole and betray my own closest flesh and blood, permanently twisting his understanding of right and wrong just so I could get a good night’s sleep, what could I do to them for denying me that rest?
1 I warned her. Everyone thinks I’m kidding about that.