Schuyler April 2011

I’ve had sleep issues since I was a kid. Maybe it was from staying up late listening to my transistor radio. I had to hear the latest Beatles stories from George Harrison’s sister on WBZ late at night. Or listen to the latest music on WLS late in the evening. At night time you could pick up AM stations from far away. Or maybe it was from staying up late on the weekends to watch movies till the stations went off the air. I was perpetually jet lagged without travelling. But both my parents had sleep problems so maybe I just come by it naturally. I’ve always thought there was something special about 3 AM whether I experienced that time because I hadn’t gone to sleep yet or because I had gotten up not long before that.

I have adjusted to a regular sleep pattern thanks to my dog, Schuyler, over the last year of her life. She no longer had full control of her bodily functions and had to be out by about 5 AM to try to be sure she did her business outside. I also carried her up and down the stairs to her yard. I am grateful to her for giving me structure. I do wish she had not gone through that misery during her last months. But she was always good natured about it, and let us know when it was time, and we were there with her to the end. I want to have the emotional intelligence of my dogs.

These days I still carry her legacy and go to bed and get up at the same time every day, but I may wake up extra early and maybe get back to sleep or not. Or on some occasions I may have trouble getting to sleep. I have a very active and talkative brain sometimes. Some nights both happen – fall asleep around midnight and wake up at 2. No worries. I have more flexibility these days. I remembered a friend who was a dairy farmer who would get up at 3 to take care of the cows. Then he would go back to bed for a few hours. That schedule works well, and I get to snuggle up on the couch with my dogs. Leo drapes across me like a weighted blanket, and Annie snores a steady rhythm. Both are very soothing.

The odd sleep pattern has always been conducive to odd dreams. I was dreaming in surround sound, technicolor and 3-D before I knew what all those terms meant. When I was a kid, I would sometimes have the exact same dream a year apart. When I started to look forward to the reruns, they stopped. I remember one that involved a tiger and the South Central Fair in Chase City. My favorites are flying dreams, but they are a rarity. What is really odd are all the time and geospatial jumps and anomalies. A couple of nights ago, I was watching a person drive along a country road in their car and park by a field. There were woods behind him, and the open field in front of him was apparently a golf course. He was to the left. To the right was a doctor’s office waiting room with lots of people in rows of chairs with a check-in window and a door to the left of the window leading to a hallway of all the offices. When the golfer teed off, all the people in the waiting room instinctively leaned to their right and covered their heads. I don’t know where the ball landed because there was a bounce to somewhere else and it had unquestioned continuity. During a nap this morning, I dreamed we were cleaning out a closet and found an old catalogue. I was so happy! I was hoping it was a Sears-Roebuck or a J. C. Penny Christmas catalogue. I really looked forward to those when I was a kid. I could spend hours looking at all the toys and decorations and amazing things in them. The online world of commerce just doesn’t have that same magic. And sometimes we even made the 70-mile drive to get to the real stores! Like the catalogues, the stores don’t exist anymore, either.

In grad school I learned that people who saw Freud had Freudian dreams and those who saw Jung had Jungian dreams. I came to the conclusion that dreams were just the firings of neurons that acted sort of like rebooting your computer so it works better. When we don’t sleep and dream, our brains don’t work well. Maybe some dreams are the products of random neuronal firing or maybe the product of some obscure thing during the day you may or may not have even noticed. But some dreams are very memorable. My mother’s side of the family have what is sometimes referred to in the hills as “the sight.” They could see and know things they didn’t have access to. My mother’s last conversation before she died was with someone sitting in the corner of her hospital room that only she could see. Her lungs were giving out and she was on a bipap machine, so her words were inaudible. Her mother visited me in a dream to say goodbye back in 1971 on a Sunday morning. It turned out that she died at the same time she came to me in that dream.

Sometimes dreams can give us chances we don’t have in our waking lives. As a friend of mine used to say, “Sleep sweet.”