This morning came less morning and more cave: cold. Dark. A whistling wind. A big kid slept on one side of my body, a big dog on the other. A puppy breathed such heat between my calves, they felt wet. I slept in just a bit. It was the wary sleep one might sleep inside the open jaw of a trash compactor. My body was a length of hose kinked and frozen.
With a recent update to my phone, the decision between buttons (“Snooze” or “Stop”) has become baffling enough that I wake in increasing increments with the humor of a hibernating cave giant tickled on the nose with a feather. I press my finger to a button, hopefully the correct button, and inevitably curl back into an inadvisable round two or three of guilt sleep.
I shouldn’t feel guilty for sleeping; I’d been up till maybe 2 a.m. the night before writing cheerful copy for a magazine, the deadline for which had already wilted like too-eager Walmart mums. The missed job was a result of my own calendar, its accuracy only as good as its author. Now it was 6:30, what a vindictive, pushy asshole, that hour.
Everything grows dark too early, gets light too late in October.
I recently got a diagnosis that explains everything. It’s easy to guess. As a kid, teachers had to clap and stomp me back to the present. My pack of siblings teemed with the appeal of a mosquito swarm and I avoided them, sequestered myself in a rare quiet spot – a rooftop, a cupboard, a burnt-out chicken coop – to be alone with the intricate, absorbent world of the head.
Once, my mother found me weeping and wailing on the stone steps of our new house in Maryland, house new enough that when she asked me, alarmed, what was the matter, I convinced her that I missed our old friends in Arizona, a plausible excuse. In fact, I’d been pretending I was a queen whose daughter or husband, maybe, had died suddenly through some plot I’d been acting out. Clueless as a puppet that its dance takes place on a stage, that little scrubby girl on the stone steps.
When my mother surprised me that day with her rupturing presence, I distinctly recall the reflex of shame that I’d been caught wearing the queen’s royal cloak. Its velvet rippled over the stairs to the edge of a bald dooryard. I hadn’t been wearing a cloak at all, just my regular hand-me-downs. Not a curtain or a sheet shroud. But I felt it on me, its weight, the brush of its fur collar on my neck. That was one of the first times I can clearly recall where the unnamed place in my head overlapped the place in my present, left its remnants so physically. I felt the cloth but could no longer see it. My mother had never seen it to begin with and I knew by then there was no use trying to explain, or maybe I didn’t have the words yet. I hadn’t known how to write yet.
I wept into my mother’s clavicle while she tried to ease my nonexistent despair. I cried from anger, actually. The too-familiar anger of being violently amputated from my velvety world into this boring insistent one with its tractor noise, sibling fighting noise, noise that perpetually screeched pay attention, wouldya? With great effort, I tried to paid attention only to find that the present offered nothing worthwhile to pay attention to. There was no way and there was no will. I played in the invisible plane instead.
As an adult, I didn’t open my bills. I saw piling detritus as fuzzy peripheries. I drove on empty, then drove on fumes, then wondered why my car had ceased to drive. When I cared deeply enough about a thing — a college course, a discovery of jazz, an affinity for poetry, a fruitful series of books, episodic bouts of romance — I fell into the thing feverishly. I acid-tripped it. I parasailed it. I was pulled into it like water to a drain until I was birthed out finally from the obsession, sputtering and gasping for air to the other side: the comparatively stale, oxygen-deprived other side.
Diagnosis: obvious. Not so obvious that it took less than thirty years to arrive at its plainly blinking, strobing arrow. But so obvious to me now that I know its proper name. A.K.A. Creative. A.K.A. Dreamy. A.K.A. Head-in-a-cloud, hopeless. A.K.A. Bookish. A.K.A. Got-no-common sense. A.K.A. Workaholic. A.K.A. Passionate. A.K.A. Emotionally unreachable. A.K.A. Easily overwhelmed. A.K.A. Why-she-always-so-serious? A.K.A. Talented. A.K.A. Gullible. A.K.A. Like herding cats. A.K.A. Flaky. A.K.A. A.D.D.
The new medicine keeps me up at night sometimes, like right now. But right now I’m sitting consumed as this piece of writing insists on itself while, over there, another piece of writing patiently waits for me to take it up so I can pay the bills with it. The bills I’ve opened, considered, and deemed, ultimately, insurmountable. That’s reality.
I slip up still. My imagined calendar overlaps my actual calendar and so I miss a deadline. The irritable giant who replaces me in sleep possesses the finger that taps the correct button for allowing yet another bout of fitful guilt sleep. I give myself too fully to things that matter little. I allow pleasure its parade far too often, still.
When I’ve closed this tab and pulled myself fully from the quicksand world, I’ll finish up some of that cheerful commercial writing I ought to do, see the deadline recede by an inch or two until it is miles behind me. I can see better now how the present claims my body where it sits and how, too, it’s part of a continuum stretching behind and before. Which helps to hold my interest. I can see further in the reality we acknowledge together, where I, too, now majority reside.
Tomorrow I’ll keep an eye on the clock until it’s time to pick up my son from school and take him to a doctor’s appointment. Kid’s a dreamer, always has his head in the clouds. Sometimes I have to clap my hands together so his ears activate. It’s 2017 and he lives in an enchanted world made of pixels or of neatly locking blocks. He’s so subsumed by his personal visual that he struggles to find speech again when I’ve lobbed him from that place.
Tomorrow he’ll half-listen while the doctor questions him. He’ll wiggle on the exam table paper until it’s a geological map of his frenetic synapses and I nearly snap, frazzled to bits by its noise, its crackling interference.
On the drive home, we’ll talk a little about the things we’re always forgetting to tell each other, then drift with traffic into our separate thoughts. Thought-drift is an apt describer. Head-world. Invisible. Easy place. Pleasure plateau. I’ll ask him to give it the name of his choosing. I’ll turn down the music and repeat myself until he hears. I’ll say you can give it a name.