The Cousin of Death
‘I never sleep ‘cos sleep is the cousin of death,’ I quoted, and she laughed; I do so like the sound of her laugh, and sometimes she stifles it after a syllable or two, as though I may become offended, but I am not easily so. ‘Writing is the most important thing I do all day. Sitting down in the evening… with some wine and… and music… and writing is the best I feel all day.’ It is cold and I am keenly aware of all the shadows that move beyond the windows. ‘And because of that, I forgo sleep, even if it leaves me feeling shit the next day. And so it gets to the weekend and I need to catch up on my sleep, but, even with all those extra hours, I don’t feel better for it… In fact, I wake up feeling worse.’
‘When you say—“Catch up on sleep” you sound very fond of it… of sleep.’
‘I am. I love sleep. I’m really good at sleep,… except lately.’
Saturday night was the worst sleep I can recall for a while. Bed swallowed me warmly and I felt so good about it, but then, in my slumber, I twitched and stuttered in the grips of many nightmares. I woke up crying and covered in sweat. The dream had impacted me to such an extent that even a trip to the bathroom could not shake it, and I returned to my bed and then, a few moments later, the nightmare, as if I had never left. I awoke some time later, still in tears. Fanning the cold bedroom air over my damp sheets. Another nightmare. More tears. The next day I woke up feeling cursed, and I wandered round as such, not saying much.
Two days later I began to develop a cough and a friend told me—‘Yes, I’ve heard you coughing all afternoon! That sounds bad! You should get tested!’ and I became so paranoid that I could not sleep on the train home and worried about all those around me who I might be infecting. Still! Tired, I could not forgo writing, and so I wrote. When I got into bed, I found that I could not sleep and having been so tired it angered and upset me that I should still find myself unable to. I lay there for some time until the thoughts that pestered me became dream and then dream became nightmare about so sensitive a subject I thought even my subconscious would be too sensitive to exploit. (‘Maybe it’s because you wrote about her,’ she said.) I woke up sobbing heavily, my ribs like bellows in front of a dying fire. Catching my breath, my chest dripped with sweat once again. Yes, but there is work soon. Two-forty-five – how much more sleep can I take? I urinated, and still it affected me, still tears ran down my face. Dried them on a half-used tissue kept next to the bed. I turned all my alarms off and settled that I would work from home the next day, if only for the extra two hours sleep. My head on the pillow, I felt the tears run down the side of my skull and into my hair.
As she started to speak, struck, I interrupted her—‘It’s stress, isn’t it?’ After a pause, through which I imagined she was smiling; yes, she told me, it sounds like it. And she told me of all the things in my life that were weighing upon me, all the things I had tried to ignore. ‘Fuck,’ I said—‘I never thought about it.’ And she dissected all of my dreams. I listened, cold, and watching the shadows beyond the window. It was all truth, and though I still could not sleep, I felt better knowing why.