Ode to an Insomniac
Ivan is still awake.
He hasn’t been able to fall asleep all night.
He paces back and forth in his bedroom, counting down the seconds as if waiting for the space shuttle to lift off. Soon it will be 7am; soon the sun will peek through the Venetian blinds, restless, always moving.
It is not the first night Ivan has waited for the morning to come.
He struggles to fall asleep, for a few hours at least, hoping to dream for a tiny morsel of the time, maybe even remembering whatever it is that meanders through his brain as he drifts away, sifting through thoughts and fears together in a stew of confusion.
The alarm clock on Ivan’s bedside table clicks with a perpetual rhythm, brassy and cruel. It taunts him in that seven-year-old way, like he’s back on the playground where that smartass kid dares him to burn up ants marching around the sandbox, the biggest genocide in Hymenopteran history. All Ivan wants to do is play tag or kickball or something. Not exposing ants to unnatural amounts of UV rays.
“Use the magnifying glass, kill ’em, c’mon, do it you big baby, where are you going, come back here you wuss, you wimp, you girl!”
His entire apartment is silent except for this eternal ticking. He picks up the clock. It feels cool to the touch, dimly reflecting the smoky light of the lamp that rests on his dresser. It is 3:09am. He lets the clock go; it cascades to the ground, colliding with wood—crunch—there goes cogs and gears, out of kilter, useless. No more ticking. But the silence that follows feels almost louder then the clock, even more derisive.
He paces some more, trying to ignore the silence.
He heads over to the window and rests his face against the chilled glass, his breath fogging it up, covering the blackness outside. The window becomes too cold to stay in contact. Ivan resumes his trek around his bedroom, eyelids taped to his forehead.
The room is too cold now. Ivan considers putting on clothes. He finds a pair of boxers and a hoodie on the floor and dives into them. He then walks to the kitchen, asking himself why the hell he is going to the refrigerator for something to drink when he is trying to escape the arctic of his bedroom.
Some generic beer stares back at him. Rotten milk and pulp-free orange juice fester in the shadows. One beer is apprehended and the lights go out. The alcohol doesn’t last long. A minute tops. The empty bottle now sits next to a box of tissues and a tottering pile of CD cases. Many of them are empty. The CDs pitched aside are a miniature building, sporting architecture that would make Frank Gehry proud.
Ivan heads mindlessly to the bathroom. He looks into the mirror. A pale, gaunt face gazes back at him, listless, his dark hair unruly, his eyes bloodshot and a lifeless gray. Without thinking twice, he reaches into the medicine cabinet and opens an orange see-through generic Rx bottle. Who cares what the label says, whatever’s inside has to work. He takes two. He swallows without water. It’s easy enough.
He takes off the hoodie and flexes. He laughs. He doesn’t think he’s attractive, but he knows that others don’t think that. So he throws the hoodie aside, ignoring how cold it really is in his apartment. He leaves the bathroom and checks his answering machine.
You have zero messages.
The phone is not there. Probably in the bedroom. Ivan returns back to his room. The pacing starts again; he walks around his bed, forgetting why he ventured back there. But then he sees the phone on the floor. After three useless revolutions around his bed, he picks it up and dials.
“Ivan, it’s 3:30!”
“What is it, can’t you fall asleep?”
“Again? You need to fix that.”
“Have you tried music?”
“Have you tried milk?”
“The milk’s spoiled. I had beer.”
“It didn’t help.”
“Obviously not. Do you have anything to get you to sleep?”
“Not even drowsiness?”
“You could take a shower, you know.”
“Aren’t those supposed to wake you up?”
“Try it out.”
“At least try a bath.”
“It might be something else, you know.”
“I dunno. Something else. Something in my head. Thoughts.”
“I dunno what it is.”
“Tell me what’s wrong.”
“If it’s something, let it all out. Let me know, I won’t bite.”
“It’s so late.”
“You called me, remember?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well, what’s up?”
“You keep on saying that.”
“I dunno. I seriously don’t know.”
“I’m gonna have to let you go.”
“You sure you’ll be all right?”
“Good night, Ivan.”
“Good morning, Kay.”
The dial tone hums in his ear, even after he pushes the OFF button. He sits on the bed and stretches. Maybe the bath will work...
The bathroom light is still on. Ivan turns the hot tap and water sprays out. It doesn’t take long until the bath is full. He discards his boxers and jumps into the scalding water. It stings his skin. His feet and legs shake from the intense heat. He lowers himself down again, rising slightly when he sinks too quickly, a giant Lipton teabag. Finally, he is submerged; he leans his head against the edge of the tub. He stares at the ceiling, at the brown-stained corners and the cracks that weave and zigzag across like bolts of lightning. He floats along down a river, some jungle, skies clogged with a steaming mist. Hoots and caws strike out from the depths of the unseen. It’s too warm, too warm to think, too warm to do anything, too warm to sleep. He lays there in the steaming water, his eyes still open wide. Nothing comes. He is wide awake.
Ivan stands up after ten minutes and looks for a clean towel. He walks about in his room, the towel around his waist, his mind elsewhere, his feet taking him around the bed once more, around, around, stopping at the window, and then back around the bed, around, circling it like a shark waiting for the perfect time to attack.
Ivan reaches for a book and starts to read. He doesn’t get tired. So he tries another book. Same thing. No drowsiness. He flings that book aside. He finds the remote. The TV turns on, first a blizzard of cathode ray snow and then the ultimate domination of paid programming. Ivan stares vacantly at the box for a few minutes. He loses interest, doesn’t finish. He turns off the TV and stands up. He heads back to the kitchen. He does a sweeping search of the fridge again, this time for edible food. Three-day-old leftovers from mom (meat-loaf and green beans in a Tupperware container) edge to the front of the top shelf. No thanks.
Ivan dials Kay’s number again.
“It’s me again.”
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“What have you been doing?”
“I took a bath. It didn’t work.”
“So now what?”
“I watched some TV.”
“And did that work?”
“So, what are you going to do now?”
“Come over here.”
“Ivan, you know I can’t.”
“Nothing will happen. I think I just need someone here.”
“Well, who can?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, thanks for talking at least, you know. Since you can’t come over.”
“Oh God, Ivan, you worry me so much.”
“Come over then.”
“I, I seriously don’t know what to tell you.”
“Just for a few minutes.”
“No. Lie down.”
“Maybe it’ll work this time.”
“I’ll let you go.”
“You know, I do worry about you, Ivan.”
“You sure you’ll be okay?”
“Okay, I love you.”
“Good night, Kay.”
The dial tone again.
He walks into his bedroom. His covers are still untouched. He lies down on his side. The lamp is still on. It takes a few minutes, but Ivan stands back up and pulls the chain to extinguish the light. Total darkness.
Vivid pictures dance around in his head, pictures of Kay, of the ceiling in the bathroom, of the television program, of the books, his job, his life, everything, and things he rarely visualizes: his cousins in Connecticut, waterskiing last August, boring-as-hell college history courses, Saturday Mass. All this and more flashes like a slide show in his brain. No sleep can come to him. No sleep has come for weeks.
Ivan walks back into his room and sits on the bed. Only an hour or so and the sun will be back. Only a little bit longer to wait until the "silence" dissipates. The pacing begins again. He stops by the lamp and pulls the chain. Light floods the room, soon to be mixed with the rays of the sun. He closes his eyes. The alarm clock rings loudly, the other spare alarm clock in his room. Its rattle screams into his ears; he is wide awake now.