93. Woke

A rumour is like a tissue in a washing machine.

The description on the flyer included phrases like, “challenging preconceptions of intimacy… exploring the gaze of perpetual surveillance… sexual fluidity and modern companionship.”

How did twelve photos, taken on different nights, of my friend James and I asleep in his bed, end up in a major photography exhibition?

Simple, really. I spent a lot of time at Karen’s house and was often too wasted to go home. Someone else may have been kipping on the sofa, or I didn’t want to wake up wheezing with the cat sat on me. Karen’s bedroom was so small, her bed was pushed up against the wall. It required a limber bed mate, which I am most certainly not. When I get out of bed, I walk like I rode a horse the day before. Her housemate, James had a big bed and he never came home that first night I stayed over. I knew he would be ok with it. “Anytime. Mi casa es tu casa.”

Another night, he did come home, very late or early, depending on whose point of view you take. He was drunk enough to knock things over, but still funny enough to say “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” Slurring, he instructed me to “Move over” then flopped down onto the bed, one arm in, one arm out of his coat. A few hours of snoring later, I took off his boots and left a pint glass of water on the bedside table.

We just carried on. It was easy and  felt comfortable. Neither of us was going out with anyone, so there were no jealous lovers to worry about. We didn’t fancy each other and were mature enough to not ruin our friendship by doing something regrettable.

The contented bliss of platonic sleeping in our clothes, drunk or stoned. Cosy, trusting, familial. Synchronised breathing. I was usually the little spoon. When he snored, I’d whisper for him to “turn over”, then place my hand on his back and his breathing would quieten. He was too polite to tell me if I ever snored.

Over home-made lasagne, garlic bread pizza, untouched salad and two bottles of montepulciano d’abruzzo, Karen admitted that she’d taken photographs of us two sleeping over the last six months. They were beautiful. So pure. I cried. It never occurred to James or me that taking our pictures whilst we slept was an invasion of our privacy, so we happily signed the consent forms she provided.

We weren’t expecting so many people to be as insistent as they were in telling us their opinion about our non-sexual relationship. Our friendship was scrutinised. We were asked how long we’d been a couple. Baffled, we said we weren’t, so it was assumed we were friends with benefits or one of us was gay or asexual. He lies in bed took on different meanings. My nonchalant, blasé denial obviously meant I was clearly trying to hide something. People hinted that I had friend-zoned James and must have been leading him on all this time. They felt sorry for him as he must have been so frustrated. Others insinuated that he was a potential predator, concluding that I had been both stupid and very lucky. How could we not know we were being photographed until afterwards? That the photos were clearly staged because men and women could obviously never be friends. Did we not realise it was bad luck for our souls to take book of the dead photos? These innocent snapshot observations became everyone’s business.

I stopped sleeping over after the exhibition. That phase had passed. It no longer felt right. I didn’t like being propelled into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and people didn’t believe me when I said this was something natural. I was there. I should know. But, the truth became just one of many opinions.

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85. IV

Morphine suits me. I’m dopey, happy, sleepy. I thought I’d be more grumpy from lack of food, but after eight hours, I’d gone past wanting it. I was definitely not bashful. A dozen strangers saw me naked, bleeding onto clean sheets.

Tea. Toast. Jam. Water. Co-codamol. Ibuprofen. Sofa. Film. Bed. Repeat every six hours for three days. Jet lag. Nausea. Period pains. Hangover.

Room number four. My nurse is called Ivy Rose and she’s my kind Irish mother for the day. I think she knows she has a beautiful name and pretends I’ve never said it before, every time I tell her. I thank everyone in a uniform for looking after me. I’ll be on my own soon. Independent. Just me and Siri. She can remind me to take my meds, ring people for me, and change the channel on the TV, but she can’t loosen bottle tops, or lift a kettle.

69. Rest Assurred

You always want what you can’t have, so they say.

Why does sleep elude me when I crave it so? It’s such a natural, simple thing. I can fall off to sleep effortlessly, but after four or five hours, I am wide awake again. I’m well past the point of saying to myself that “if I fell asleep now I could get another two hours.” Physical rest is the best I can expect. Mental rest will have to wait.

I hear people talk of how their mood is affected when they don’t get their full eight hours, or new parents unprepared for how much their nights would be disrupted. I want to scream “That is my life!” but I don’t have the energy, and it would do no good to do the whole “I bet I’m more tired than you are.”

I’m perpetually in a fog. On auto-pilot. A zombie. Groggy. Jet-lagged. I’ve tried mindfulness, lavender, herbal tea, cutting back on stress and caffeine, a ‘clean sleep’ routine, new mattress, cold bedroom, going to bed later, blackout curtains, a set bedtime, exercise, no electronics in the bedroom, vitamins, counting backwards in sevens, and sticking my feet outside of the covers.

Maybe my being overweight has something to do with my poor quality sleep? Maybe my being overweight is because I don’t sleep properly?

It took me months to realise I was anaemic as one of the symptoms is exhaustion, and my default is general fatigue, so…

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There’s a notebook by the bed with a pencil that writes smoothly, so as not to disturb him. I lay there, watching him breathe, trying to think of how I would spend lottery money or plan our next holiday. Sometimes I ruminate on throwaway comments said by someone I barely know anymore, who probably can’t even remember saying them, and only said them because they were hangry.

I sometimes think of people I have known, who did not take as prominent a place in my life as they could have done.

Tiny, motion-sensitive dim lights lead the way to the bathroom.

Occasionally, I do get up, watch a bit of telly or write down some ramblings. There are lots of people I don’t normally interact with on Twitter at 3am GMT.

On days at home from work, I live in holey cashmere jumpers and baggy pyjama bottoms with soft-soled slippers, so there’s no need to change if I decide to nap. Just forty minutes before 2pm can change my whole evening. My battery is recharged and I can stay awake until a proper adult bedtime.

My family says I’m on ‘old people’s time’ because my sleep pattern forces my whole day to shift to an earlier time. I’m ready for bed when most people are going out for dinner at 8pm. That’s like midnight for me.  I’m the first at any restaurant for lunch when the clock has barely struck noon. At work before most people’s alarms have gone off. Ready to leave work at 3.30 pm. Thank goodness I can choose my own hours. Theatre matinees, morning cinema trips, lunch, not dinner dates.

I never skimp on rest to do other things, I always try to aim for a full-night’s allowance of sleep. It’s just my sleep pattern would ideally be 8pm-4am then possibly another forty minutes around 11.30am. That’s breakfast tv presenter or baker territory. Maybe I’m just in the wrong job.