I rub my feet together like a grasshopper when I try to fall asleep, like a praying mantis with its scheming limbs, at least as I imagine them. Like cartoons. That nagging, incessant motion at the foot of the bed bothers my friends at sleepovers but its the only way I can fall asleep. Involuntary and soothing, I never sucked my thumb as a kid. I cried, complained, fidgeted my way through home.
I’m twelve when my best friend’s dad stumbles drunk, dizzy and desperate for interaction, into the sleepover as we binge the O.C. before binging is a verb people use, but it’s what we did. He goes upstairs and doesn’t bother us again but this bothers us because he isn’t married to her mom who calls him “that shithead” in a way that makes us giggle and makes her, our friend, their daughter, cringe. Seven years later, hungover and teary-eyed tired, she and I will call a guy a shithead over coffee and we won’t giggle or cringe, we’ll just know it to be true.
There are shitheads and there are non-shitheads, and we are not shitheads. We will agree and sip and later drift apart, not really knowing what’s true but not caring all the same.
You will drink coffee sweetened with methadone you got from some girl’s dad’s medicine cabinet and you will pass out in a Starbucks; we’ll have our first date in a Starbucks years later, after we meet at a party. You’ll ask for a cigarette and ignore me, I won’t be ignored and I’ll give you my number. You will sweat it. I’ll trip. We’ll blush, choosing between smiley faces, avoiding each other’s photos, wanting to know each other for real. “Real,” we’ll reason.
I’ll want to go home with you but you will deflect and I will go home to sleep alone: playing on my laptop, rearranging books, stepping over mess and hangers until I reach another thing to do that isn’t sleep.
I couldn’t sleep sound if I tried and then, after a date or four — proper ones with you paying and me flirting and us just waiting to get to the other side — you’ll sleep with me, we’ll get exhausted, my feet rubbing together and your hands firm somewhere, still, planted.
And it will be quiet in a way that it wasn’t before. We’ll sleep. Sound.
In another universe I am born without neuroses, I think; sometimes when I can’t fall asleep I imagine myself in another place that depends on the sun, where life revolves around accomplishing work in the daylight hours, the kind of work that requires more body and less mind. In this world I’m a lot like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, I daydream and spend my time on books when I’m not working, I’m regarded with a sort of whimsy, a near-and-dear affection, an affinity others feel for me that puts me in their care, beyond what their higher reasoning would allow.
Sometimes when I can’t fall asleep I imagine myself at age 7, even 8 or 9, I guess the year is arbitrary so long as it’s single digits. I think about a kid who doesn’t need to do anything to sleep, who just does it, who wakes up without thinking about why, and I wonder if that was really ever me, or if I’ve created a cozy character for my past: a happy, innocent kid, a gets-fucked-up-somewhere-along-some-line-why-don’t-you-figure-it-out-and-fix-it-then version of myself.
“Was I a happy kid?”
“You’ve always been sensitive, sweetheart.”
I’d walk close to my mom, as close as I could. Wispy blonde hair, platinum. Big brown eyes. Button nose. Frilly dresses and florals. Strangers would tell me how cute I was, they’d smile. Tears would burst. “They think I’m ugly, mom.” I was five.
You spit on a girl in preschool once, I bit a girl who didn’t share her toys. My parents don’t remember my transgression. Your mother retells your story, light laughs dance around it. Both things never felt funny to me.
I cross my legs when I’m sitting down at my desk, ankles pretzeled over one another. Rigid, toes pointed up. Jaw clenched. Muscles firm somewhere, still, planted.
At work I look out the window and think about looking out the car window as a kid, watching at the tubes at the bank, convinced that all of them contained candy, always disheartened when they did not. Disappointed. Daily, never giving up the hope for something sweet.