The only completely consistent people are the dead. – by Huxley, Aldous.
Friday was another day of very low level pain. I slept from seven in the evening until eleven without waking once. Then I sat up and did some reading and work until nearly two in the morning. I went back to sleep and did not wake for another four hours. That never happens to me. I often wake every hour.
My mom claims that the staff at St. Ann’s Hospital, where my sister and I were born, used to wake the babies for their first feeding at a very early hour. We have always been early to rise. Our brother Danny was born at Holy Family Hospital. They woke the babies later at that hospital, and he still enjoys sleeping late if he ever gets the chance.
When I was a child I slept about five hours a night. On Christmas Day it was always the sight of me seated before the tree staring at the lights and presents that greeted everyone else. One year my mom and dad tied all of the doors shut to keep me from reaching the den. They found me seated in the hall on a cold floor peering through the slats of the louvered doors when they woke.
In 1980 I started working the night shift at a hotel. I taught classes in the morning at a local college. I helped to coach a college debate team in the early afternoon. I slept from three in the afternoon until it was time to get up and get ready for work again. On many Friday mornings I finished work at the hotel and climbed into a van and traveled to debate tournaments. I did not sleep at all until the day was done. On Sunday nights I returned to work at the hotel and kept going.
I read the book entitled Sleep Less, Live More by Everett Mattlin and systematically reduced my sleep time to three hours. For most of my adult life I slept no longer than that.
Even when I wanted to sleep more I found it difficult to do so. Studies now show that this is terrible for a person’s health. The studies may be right. I find myself increasingly interested in reading studies and decreasingly influenced by them. They tend to contradict each other. Something is good for me. Something is bad for me. These inconsistencies would trouble me more if I thought inconsistency in life could be resolved. I agree with Aldous Huxley that life is inconsistent.
I was awake, other than when I was drugged, for the entire week of my hospital stay in October of 2011. I was awake for several days straight during my hospital stay in December of the same year. I have slept more than seven hours during a single day on numerous occasions since I finished chemotherapy and radiation treatment in that same month of 2011. But I do not go to sleep and stay that way for long. I wake up to roll over. I get that pins and needles feeling in my hands sometimes and wake from a deep sleep. I wake to go to the bathroom. In the last 18 months I have awakened often, sometimes every ten minutes.
I rarely have dreams that I remember when I am awake. I often wondered if my short sleep pattern meant that I did not reach REM sleep–the sleep that usually delivers dreams. I have read studies that say that this is nonsensical. The patterns of sleep are, like death, consistent.
Since my diagnosis and treatment I dream much more and the dream is nearly always the same. I am president of the United States and my son, a veteran of a foreign war, is missing because the government of which I am the chief executive has exposed my son to the werewolf virus. He has run off to figure out how to deal with his new reality. When I wake from this dream I am speaking with the Secret Service agent in charge of my missing son’s security detail. I ask him, “Do you know where my son is?” He tells me he does not and I think to myself, “Liar.”
I already have written about this dream and what it might mean.
Last night I had a different dream. It seems to have sprung from what I did yesterday afternoon. I drove out to the cemetery where my dad and his parents are interred. The place is a disgusting carpet of goose turds. Those devils of earth and sky use the cemetery as a gigantic toilet. In the wake of a cold and snowy winter, most of their droppings are bleached beige and dried down to the fiber. They disintegrate beneath my footfalls. Visiting the cemetery is far more treacherous in spring, summer, and fall when the droppings are fresh. I can barely negotiate my way to my dad’s gravesite without stepping on the stuff.
I took some paper towels with me so that I could clean off his headstone and those of each of my grandparents. Those stones are also liberally decorated with this stuff of foul fowls. As I walked past a woman my mother’s age who was decorating her deceased husband’s grave with Easter eggs (the real thing, hand-dyed and decorated with a piece of ribbon) on little spikes, I noticed a bird sitting on my dad’s headstone.
My mom thinks my dad’s spirit sometimes visits her in the form of a bird. When I am at her home I sometimes hear the thud of a bird hitting a pane of a window or the side of the structure. My mom loves birds. She always knows the caw of a blue jay and smiles at the sight of a cardinal. This was a rather large bird, but not big enough to be a duck or a goose. It was not small enough to be a sparrow or a robin.
It was quiet. The only noise I heard was the sound of my tinnitus. My ears “ring” all of the time since chemotherapy. The bird must have heard me, but he did not move from the headstone as I approached. I decided to greet my disembodied dad. “Hi, Dad,” I said softly.
The bird turned to look at me as I drew within a few feet of it. Then it started walking away. He stepped over to the headstone of George Prewitt, one of my grandparents’ good friends. George is buried next to my dad. Then he turned and looked at me. I stepped onto my dad’s grave and bent to clean the stone of its nasty “decorations.” The bird was close enough for me to touch and still watching me.
I usually speak to my dad when I visit. I told him the good news of my relief from the pain of radiation cystitis. I told him that my mom was visiting with my sister Kathy and asked him to pray for the entire family. I said some prayers for him, for his parents, for my mom’s parents, and for the rest of our family.
The bird turned away from me and walked deliberately to the next grave. It belongs to Flo Prewitt. The bird kept on walking to the grave of Agnes Luckey, Flo’s mom. Then the bird strolled up onto the grave of my grandma. He settled again at my grandpa’s headstone.
I went on with my news report (as if I really think my loved ones hang out in a cemetery). When my dad’s headstone was “clean,” I approached my grandpa’s grave and the bird turned to look at me once more before flying off and away.
When I had finished my greetings I walked back toward my car. I passed the now unattended grave the other visitor had decorated. I realized that the grave beside it already bore the woman’s name and date of birth. That must be interesting. I plan to someday be interred above my grandfather. We were born on the same day (fifty-five years apart) and were very close. My aunt plans to be interred above her mom. My mom plans to be interred above my dad. Someday there will be the six of us and the three members of Flo’s family lying in rest there. I don’t ever focus on that fact when I visit because, unlike the woman whose now empty grave I passed, my name is not already carved in a stone.
As I looked up I saw the bird again–at least I think it was the same bird–standing right beside my car. It was still there when I slowly drove away from my parking space.
Last night I slept without waking once during the last four hours of my night. When I woke I had been dreaming. In my dream I was back in the cemetery. I was speaking to my dad and watching the bird. In my dream, the bird answered. The last thing I recall from my dream was that the bird said, “This place is not for you. Dream bigger dreams.”
I think I really am getting better.