East Wing, third floor? I’m going to be late. Inside the doors of the North Academic Center, I lose my bearings for a moment. This headache is killing me. Up, I remember up. I dash up the nearest escalator, bumping two girls and blurting out a “sorry” as I rush off. I look left and right to check where I’m going as if I have some clue. Was I supposed to take that left? Oh well, it’s too late, so I just continue on my path. I’ll find the classroom eventually, right?
Maybe I just want to feel like I tried. I check my watch and give up on getting to class. Econ will have to wait. I slide down the wall in the empty hallway. I look at the ceiling, fighting tears. Hugging my knees, I close my eyes and try to ignore the ringing in my ears. I’m tempted to fall asleep right there. The hallway is empty right now. It would be embarrassing to scream myself awake in a crowded hallway. The school is big, but I’m sure word would get around that I was possessed or something. After a few minutes I take a deep breath and force myself to stand. I don’t want to go back to my dorm; after so many sleepless nights a place can lose its comfort.
I make my way to the library; books remind me of home. Not the place where I grew up, but that romantic idea of bedtime stories by a crackling fire. I find a worn- in reading chair in the stacks away from the traffic. It takes me no more than three minutes for me to realize I won’t be able to fall asleep. I stay suspended somewhere between consciousness and daydreams. I’m so exhausted. I don’t want to sleep. Most of the time I don’t even remember what my dreams are about. All I remember are frantic fragments that I struggle to piece together. The details don’t seem to matter, it’s all the same, really.
The student library attendant startles me a little before lock-up. It’s gotten dark. I guess I fell asleep. Okay, so that means more absences. If I’m lucky, some will go unnoticed in crowded lecture halls. I gather myself quickly, and mutter “thanks” as I head for the door. I don’t look at her. I don’t look at most people these days. My stomach reminds me that I need to eat, there’s got to be some food in my room.
Left, right, cross the street, second door, left, stairs, where are my keys? What day is it? My watch says Thursday April 14th 7:38 pm, like it’s supposed to mean something. My room is a mess. I should do laundry. I scrounge up a Ramen square, two granola bars, and half a Gatorade. I stare off for a few moments after devouring the granola bars. When was the last time I ate? I wonder where I’ll be in a year. In a month. Maybe I’ll run away to the circus. Maybe that way I won’t have to explain why I can’t function. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” In that judgmental tone my dad loves. I was never going to be some Sigma Nu like you hoped.
I take a little too long doing every task that could have waited, partially to avoid sleep and partially because moving is difficult. It’s well past one a.m. Thinking anything complicated makes me dizzy. I need to sleep now. I prepare for the struggle, counting each breath like it might save me from my subconscious. Maybe there wont be nightmares tonight. Just blank dead sleep. I can only wish. I toss and turn, despair creeping through the sheets. There’s no hope for tomorrow.
I wake up late in the afternoon. And I think I got to sleep around four thirty, light was starting to come through the shades. My shirt is sticking to me. I drag myself into the shower. I breathe in steam and zone out to the water pounding on my head. Soap, rinse, and linger. I finally get out when the water gets cold. I throw on jeans and a sweater and wander without direction. Everywhere I go is empty. I know there are people just out of sight,but I feel like the last person on earth.
I find myself at the library again. This time I don’t linger in one place. I read sentences that deteriorate into words that deteriorate into letters floating in space. My eyes are open, but I don’t see much. I gave up trying to keep the world in focus. Maybe next time I fall asleep, maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe I’ll befriend my demons. Maybe they’ll let me sleep. I stop picking out books because it’s difficult for me to put them back properly.
I guess I fell because everything is sideways I think. I try to move but give up quickly. I can just rest here. I’ll just rest here. I’ll… It’s .. ..
When I emerged from the calm darkness. I hear them say I was unresponsive for seventy-two hours. It felt much longer. I find myself in a hospital room. I was admitted to the ER, I guess. They tell me that a student noticed me on the floor and couldn’t wake me up. They said the library’s student worker was concerned because my heart was beating really fast and irregular, but my breathing was slow. He called an ambulance, for liability reasons, I guess. Some EKGs and EEGs later my heart was stamped “stable” and I was issued intraveinal tap to treat my sleep deprivation.
They don’t actually know why we need to sleep. Nine days without any sleep will kill a person. With slight naps, someone can probably last fifteen. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night. I guess I had a lot of catching up to do. The quiet hum of hospital machines lulls me in and out of consciousness. They check my heart at intervals I can’t make sense of. My parents came to visit, I think. I heard my mom crying in a dream. I guess it was a dream. For once it wasn’t a nightmare.
Everything is suspended in shades of grey and I feel more rested than ever. It still isn’t enough. I guess I won’t stay awake long enough; they put an uncomfortable tube in my throat for food. My dad must have visited because I heard Mom talking to him about possible options, I don’t know for what.
My condition is improving. I think it’s been a little over three weeks. My mom visits most days; I think I felt her holding my hand. They tell her I should wake up any day now. I want to tell them I’m awake but I can’t seem to figure out how.
Mom has been visiting less. I keep trying to open my eyes but I can’t. It’s quieter now. Someone comes in and moves my limbs around, and it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever felt. For the first time in my life I’m not exhausted. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I used to play mind games, and then I counted prime numbers. I can finally sleep with out pain but the trade off isn’t worth it.
I heard Dad’s voice today. He told me it would be okay and wished me luck. I don’t think I understand. Mom cried a lot today. I’m scared. I know what they’re doing. How can I show them that I’m here? I just wanted to sleep.