The Insomniac Hunts the Gazelle

January 8, 2007

Again with the insomnia. So I bring it to you, because you know these things. You’re a doctor. If nothing else, you’re certainly more of a doctor than I am. By all rights, I should just get in touch with my real doctor, whose name is something like Israel Hands, I think. But that’s can’t be right.

I’m such a terrible doctor that the first medical text I consulted about this weekend’s bout of insomnia is Wikipedia! I am the stupidest man alive, I think. Perhaps I’m being punished. Perhaps I am just too stupid to sleep. I mean, honestly, the dog is fucking daft but she sleeps like an ace. She’s really good at it. I can’t even get sleep down. All I know is that I like
Christopher Nolan movies and I cannot sleep.

It begins with me laying in bed, constantly recalculating the best place to put my hands. Do I put them under the pillow or do I drape one arm across my face to hold my eyes shut? I fold them across my chest like I’m a dracula. I lay them at my sides like I’m a cadaver. Then I snap awake, which is when I realize I was almost asleep, and look around for the sound that woke me up. Turns out it was the motor running inside my head.

The constant thrumming is obnoxious. It’s like there’s a noisy restaurant outside my window and I’m too polite to tell them to shove it. It’s like anxieties T-boning fears at the intersection outside my front door. It’s like the emergency crews show up and run electric saws all night and bounce their red-and-blue lights off the bedroom ceiling, putting their purple glow down on my face.

So it’s off to the couch for a change of scenery. Sometimes putting on the television helps, ’cause it gives me something to tune out and tuning out leads to sleep like a well shaft leads to water. (This is why they put the “Play All” option on TV-show DVDs anyway, isn’t it?) But — and we both saw this coming — the well is dry. That’s another half-hour wasted.

So I come back to the computer and try to do some work that doesn’t require my full faculties. I browse some work-related websites and write some comments or messages that I will forget about, and then regret, in that order. I write a couple of emails, then save them to review when I’m “really awake” instead of “prisoner in the slave mines of Planet Insomnax awake.” I look over the proof for World of Darkness: Urban Legends even though it’s not my book. I read about thirty pages in four different books (or “books” — The Cults of the Roman Empire is pretty good, so I should read it when I’m real, while Marvel Civil War #6 is only okay and I somehow missed #5 anyway, so whatever).

I sit down and tinker with the outlines for a couple of upcoming books, and this is where the good stuff happens, at least. Ideas fall into sentences like blocks falling into place inside a box. Thoughts that I’ve been trying to turn solid for weeks suddenly take shape like bread rising in an oven. I play these new sentences over and over again like I’ve finally caught a familiar melody on the piano; when I stop playing it’ll get away.

But everything seems fuzzy around the edges now. I start to feel the drunken rush of exhaustion, and I’m a happy drunk. But it’s a trap. If I lay down the streetsweeper will come by and drive back and forth over the plastic bits of tail-light and green squares of windshield glass at the accident scene. It’ll spray orange spinning lights across the ceiling and rev its whirring brooms.

I have one chance: I have to run sleep down like a gazelle. I have to chase it across the internet veldt until it’s too tired to run anymore. I catch sight of it amid the tall grasses of a valley I recognize and chase it through a weedy field I’ve known for years. It vaults over a thorny line of shrubs that I spend precious minutes picking my way through before coming out on the other side. But there it is, it’s striped haunch blazing white and blinding, until it sees me, twists around, kicks off the ground and darts off. I lose it for a second in the shadows beneath the gulai trees but pick it up again when it rattles some windchimes hanging nearby. It dashes into the dark downhill, where the creekbed runs like a tunnel under the trees, kicking little jewels of water off its paired, pumping black back hooves. Then we turn north and uphill. As we come up the hill, our feet slipping on the wet grass underneath us, we reach the gloaming light of shady trees giving way to the yellow light of sun shining off brown reeds. It stumbles, and for a moment I’ve got a fistful of stiff brown fur. Then it twists back to bolt downhill, and that’s when I get my grip on its corkscrew horns and wrestle it to the ground.

Quietly, whispering, I pour my brain into its ear and set it free. It sprints off across the plain and I sit myself down against a baobab. Tiny bugs flit at the edge of my sight, out beyond the edge of my lenses. A chill comes down. It feels like stray hairs are landing on my arms.

I hold off shutting my eyes for just a bit. I try to store up some of this feeling, the verge of sleep. This moment, the moment when exhaustion turns to sleep behind my eyes, is when the most sleep lays ahead, like a deep lake filling a crack in a wooded mountain. The bugs snatch new thoughts as they drift up and leave them around me in the grass like cast-off shoes. All I can hear is fragments of verse in John Darnielle‘s voice floating in my head like the smoke from a snuffed fire.

Trucks loaded down with weapons/Crossing over every night/Moon-yellow and bright.

There is a shortage in the blood supply/but there is no shortage of blood.

I imagine I’ll delete this when I wake up.



  1. “I imagine I’ll delete this when I wake up.”

    Don’t. It’s lovely.

  2. And like a true predator, you gorged yourself once you caught your prey.

    Nice ramble, though.

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