I've tried all the remedies to sleep, but my mind is so filled this time of year, it's hard to imagine it will slow down.
Instead of sleepy, I fall in to nostalgia, which is possibly the worst category; it's worse than plain sadness or melancholy, or insomnia. I think nostalgia is a purgatory for people who have a solid sense of recall and an ability to include all of their senses when they remember.
It conjures up almost every place I've been-by smell, and vision, and emotion. The night is instantly filled with forty one years of life, instead of whatever became of this day.
I certainly relive all of the most recent moments that have happened when my feet were a little cold, when Christmas was around the corner, or upon us, but more likely my mind wanders back to 8, and 12, 19, and 22, to when I was a bride-to be, and days of new-motherhood.
I remember learning to ski with my "Unka Danke" (because that is what we called my mother's brother; we always had so many reasons to thank him). He pushed me down into the soft snow and taught me to get up on my own, then fed me soup from a thermos, and taught me how to open a beer. I never feared falling after that trip. Eight years old, and I mostly knew what you should always figure out: what is the the worst thing that can happen? Prepare for that, and everything else will be cake. Doomsday prepper in the making? Perhaps, but we have "go bags" for almost every part of our life. He gave me love and direction with no strings attached. His pragmatics dictated that he gave me distinct praise for my abilities and accomplishments- I always knew where I stood. I didn't know how rare his adjudication was until much later in life. And he treated me as an equal who just had yet to learn, never basing my identity on my age or gender.
When I am sleepy, and there is a chill in the house, I can remember being asked by my parents to help with my brother's gigantic Lego gifts that were from "Santa" because my parents had lost the patience to complete whatever Millennium Falcon or aircraft carrier was laying about in thousands of pieces (or maybe they knew how much I loved Legos, even though they were never my gift?). I spent hours on those December 24ths putting together set after set, and I was always in charge of the stickers.
I can remember that I slipped the neat bow off of the silver gift box (in the middle of the night) to see if my parents had purchased the right purse, so I would have the proper face of appropriate joy upon opening the gift, just in case they had gotten it wrong. I wanted to be disappointed alone so I wouldn't make them sad. (But they got it right!)
I remember lying, something I truly strive every single day not to do, to my parents for at least half of December one year, about who broke the foil-covered chocolate ornaments on the tree and ate part of each ball. I took the blame so my little brother would not get in trouble...as if my parents really cared. He ate so many of the chocolate balls that no one paid attention to all of the candy canes I pocketed each morning.
On this chilly night, I have a strong feeling, mixed with a solid haze about the years where I was still living with my parents, split between them since they had divorced. I remember the realization that I really had two sets of parents. There was a dinner when my not-yet-step sisters talked on about going skiing with friends and I wanted so badly to be a part of their world, yet unbeknownst to me, at my other house, I had a new ski jacket, boots and skis waiting for me under the tree. I was a pretty lucky kid.
That was a year when I knew that things had broken, but not forever. I knew my brother and I would never suffer the ill fates that some of my friends had: angry, sad parents, changing schools. With so many parents who really loved us, how could we possibly fail? It's been confirmed in my head, after all of the stories I've heard, just how great we had it, how lucky all of my siblings from both sides are to have so many, many, parents who love them. I say now that I have six parents: the ones I came with, the ones I gained, and the ones I married into. We have that many people loving us, caring about our future, and our children's future. I've got extras looking out for me and the ones I love.
When it is this cold and I can't sleep, I can remember starting college, and there were so many new-to-me-religions. I was invited to go to Beverly Hills with my Jewish friends, and I craved the solid, persistent, unequivocal religion they experienced. They had family and religion and culture and education all tied-in-to-one thing. It made me understand Catholics better, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Muslims. It made being a protestant seem bland, or undecided; I church hopped. I only knew I was not a Unitarian.
I can remember, on a cold day like today sitting in the 1st Congregational Church in Berkeley, with my very kind boyfriend trying to figure out how to be a critical thinker and a Christian in one fell swoop, something he had perfected, an armor he wore without shame or arrogance. The church was clapboard and painted buttercup yellow inside, and the pews were smooth; the coffee was weak, but it was served with a smile. None of those things were a good fit for me, not the boy or the little yellow church.
I can remember racing home for the holidays, the acrid smell of tobacco in the car as my best
freshman-year friend and I traveled down I-5. Thirty-eight degrees, windows open, pretending that cigarettes
and 87 mph in a two door Toyota Corona couldn't shave a moment off our
lives. My dad told me I should wait a bit to call him the next time I drove down, because he could do math, and knew that we never should have arrived that quickly.
In this sleeplessness, I feel the physical ache of working at the
Big Blue Logo Box store I ran way back when, as the store manager. Looking at my watch (!) 4:45
pm on December 24, knowing that it would take me an hour to get to the
airport, and my flight left at 6:10 pm. I remember thinking that the only
place to be for Christmas was somewhere in Orange County, where the sun
is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. I can
remember the joy of exiting the plane wearing the most awesome all-wool sweater skirt and jacket with a black bowler hat and the most
precious Mary Jane character shoes, with dark black tights, and realizing
that upon disembarkation, I looked like someone heading to Annie Hall's
The cold, the not-sleepiness, makes me remember the nights I spent poring over books and charts trying to figure out who I would be, and the timeline it should follow. I thought my security, my future, my lifetime happiness, was most strongly knotted to marriage, which would bring me children, and a spouse, which would, in turn, garner praise from my parents. And I had hoped I would find satisfaction for myself, because for whatever shortcomings I have, I always thought my children will be better than I will ever be. I thought my awareness of my weaknesses would somehow give them strength. At the time, with all of my education and desire to succeed in the business world, I really thought I had only two tasks to get right: be married to good man, and be a good mom.
But even now on this sleepless winter night, I can feel the anxiety of trying to be the right person, the right girlfriend. I can feel the needs-to-be written-about experience of my underwear, every piece of of lacy bit I couldn't afford, falling out of my suitcase and down the airport luggage carousal, a ten foot drop, waiting to be swept up into the arms, of what I thought at the time, was going to be my father-in-law. I can remember, as my nose chilled and my cheeks pinked to a hue unknown at makeup counters, thinking that perhaps, I had just become a story in some other family's life.
Numbed hands and toes, I remember declaring my love for Descartes as snow fell around us, feeling warm in what what was surely a blizzard. I remember the longest drive home that day in the windy Jeep.
I remember the cold fog at Fort Tejon on December 26th, 1996, when my now-husband, unwittingly admitted me into his life forever by asking me to marry him, and smell of the oranges we bought miles later at a roadside stand. I wore a yellow sweater that was donated last year by accident. The sky was so very blue that day.
And I practically relive the nausea of being in a fold-out bed in my
sister-law's house, suffering from the worst food poisoning. I lay dying in their front
room praying the world would end because my body was dissolving from the inside out, knowing that if I had not already been engaged, my groans alone would have heralded the end of my relationship.
The cold reminds me of how warm my children's little bodies are when they crawl into my bed in the morning, making my bed a tumble of joy I didn't know could be so very big and heart-fulfilling. I think of Descartes' giant 'Lumber man' jacket that he purchased in the middle of August in Montana, making it the best off-season purchase ever. I think of ice fishing, calculating whether my child was bigger than the holes we cut in the ice.
So many memories, so little sleep.