Almost every day ends the same, with me lying unconscious on top of my favorite possession — my pillowtop queen.
There are exceptions, such as when I travel, where I end up unconscious on some other horizontal surface, but it’s as sure a rule as any that no matter what kinds of wild or unpredictable events happen during the day, the conclusion is quite predictable: me, horizontal and comatose.
I know it’s the same for you, and everyone else too. Just about everything else between us is different though. There are seven billion people in the middle of their lives at any given moment, whose days differ from each other in almost every respect. The events and thoughts that fill a normal day are so distinct to each individual that it’s probably impossible for any one person to imagine quite how it feels to live a day in the life of another.
The early-rising Chinese fishmongress couldn’t possibly guess what happens between dawn and dusk in the life of a Seattle studio guitarist, or vice-versa. But neither would even a close friend of yours have anything but the most basic idea of what a normal day is like in your shoes. The details of your job, your clothes-choosing process, the emotional feel of your morning routine, the recurring memories that comfort you or bother you — all of it is familiar to you and utterly foreign to everyone except you.
The waking part of each of our lives is necessarily different from anyone else’s, particularly given that most of our experience consists of what is completely private: our thoughts and the feelings that come with them. Yet with few exceptions, each of us will end the day by sinking willingly into some kind of surface, and letting consciousness finally run out of gas.
Wherever your days end, once you find that resting place, the unique goings-on of that day begin to fade away and you slip into a well-practiced routine. You get comfortable almost automatically, flipping your pillow or tucking your feet under the blanket, or whatever you do, and putting your hands where you like your hands to be. Then the background noise settles in.
After those last few actions of the day, you become like everyone else, everywhere, once they’ve parked themselves for the night. No matter what the day held, talking is over, doing is over, you’re horizontal and still, and ready to resign yourself to unconsciousness.
Some thoughts probably appear. They could be lazy ones or fierce ones. But however long it takes for the mind to let you go, by that moment unconsciousness is already descending. It may be a minute or an hour, but you’ll never see the exact moment it arrives. You’ll just find yourself on the other side of it.
My pillowtop is four years old now, beginning to bow in the middle a little bit, but it’s still superior to almost all of the other surfaces I’ve experienced in recent memory — camping pads, musty hide-a-beds, frumpy floor-beds with no boxspring, creaky hostel bunks, couches, stiff hotel beds, and the odd carpet. Even after a relatively bad day, or on the night before something I’m worried about, that bed is still pleasing enough that I can’t help but feel grateful to be exactly there, of all places. It’s interesting that the events of waking life can make a given day feel like it’s going so unswervingly wrong, yet they always end the same.
The first outbreath after I’ve stopped tossing into position serves as a trigger for a little ritual now. My mind starts to wander to other people’s last moments of the day. I think about who’s going to bed in the city around me. The girl who rang my groceries through and said “mmmm” when she got to the kiwis. The guy in the jacked up truck that was tailgating me on the bridge today. I wonder how they feel as they’re going to sleep, and what surfaces they end up on. Was it a good day? How does tomorrow look? Is it a worrisome sleep or a grateful one?
I never know. But I don’t often get to sleep without feeling at least a passing sense of solidarity with everyone who is also, at that time, giving up on consciousness for the day. Sometimes it’s a really powerful sense. We sleep together.
It’s an interesting quirk of Mother Nature — that she insists on taking us down to the ground like that, every day, no matter who we are. For all of us, the act of leaving consciousness is the same, it’s just our settings and situations — which bookend that unconsciousness — where we differ.
Some people are surrendering their consciousness in sleeping bags, straw beds, or hammocks, and maybe they’re just as comfortable as I am. Some of them are in fancy hotels, or crummy motels, or bamboo huts with termites audibly eating them. Some are on prison cots. Millions, actually.
There are people going to bed alone, wishing they weren’t. There are people falling asleep beside their true loves. There are people falling asleep next to someone they don’t love any more. There are people falling asleep on benches, in abandonded subway stations, or on piles of discarded clothes in a stand of trees in the park. There’s probably even someone out there falling asleep in a coffin.
No matter the setting, all these people are doing the same thing: just closing their eyes and letting themselves disappear.
There are people leaving their waking hours in hospital beds, in rowdy dorms or hostels, in vast gymnasiums turned into emergency shelters. There are people sleeping on their office floors in sleeping bags, which they roll up and hide before anyone else gets in. There are people going to sleep in shipping containers with dozens of others, hoping the good life is about to begin when they arrive in Vancouver.
Some are hearing rain while they fade into sleep, some are hearing sirens, some are hearing arguing next door. Some are hearing their neighbor peeing. Some are hearing crickets. Some are hearing rats.
Every single face you’ve seen today will find a spot somewhere, to call the day done and let sleep take them. No matter how your day goes today, I hope that when today’s talking and thinking and hoping and working is over with, your final place is a warm, dry one.
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