If sleep had been an Olympic sport, in my youth I would have made the U.S. team. At night I would drink a cup of coffee in bed, turn out the light, and the next thing I knew it would be morning. I took naps like some take Valium–the more anxious I felt, the more I slept. Sleep was my weapon against boredom: I slept through movies and plays and, in my academic years, through faculty meetings, honors convocations, and graduations.
Now the most innocuous email keeps me awake. If I drink coffee or eat a single chocolate chip cookie after 1 p.m., I’m done for. Red wine, not to mention anything stronger, I gave up long ago because of its insomniac effects. But these days even the palest grigio keeps me up.
The first dozen times it happened, it shook my sense of self. Me, the bride of Morpheus, awake at midnight? Me, thrashing under the covers, counting sheep, meditating, slowing my breathing, taking melatonin, drinking chamomile—and all in vain? Without a full nine hours of oblivion, would I survive as anything other than a dried out husk, a living ghost?
But with practice you can get used to anything. Three nights out of seven, whether because of a belated cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or the phase of the moon, I either can’t fall asleep or I wake up at midnight feeling oddly refreshed, my critical faculties intact, ready to cast a dispassionate eye on the human condition.
When that happens, I do not linger in the conjugal bed, but grab my glasses and my book, and tiptoe out of the room. Hearing the door click shut, the cat Telemann comes miaowing out of the kitchen, tail held high like a drum major’s baton. He throws himself on his back at my feet, stretches to his full length of about two yards, and does a horizontal belly dance, shimmying and propelling himself across the floor like an upside-down cobra.
I walk into my study and lie on the cot that I keep there for these occasions. Telemann waits until I have arranged the afghan over my body, adjusted the reading lamp, and found my place in the book. When all is ready he jumps up on the spot between my face and the book, and purrs and turns, turns and purrs. Delicately, lest he take offence and return to the kitchen, I push him back a bit so I can see the page. If I do it right, he eventually lies down at waist level and settles to kneading the afghan with passion, his ten white toes spread in ecstasy.
The kneading phase lasts a long time, but gradually his eyes begin to close, and he dozes off. And I, lulled by the purring and kneading, soothed by the warm cat weight on my stomach, take off my glasses, put down my book, turn out the light, and fall asleep.
lovely sinking into the animal world and resting there
And we can all use some help with sinking.
How lovely. I had to laugh in recognition at his need to be between you and your book.
Wish I knew why cats are so darn intrusive. Telemann also periodically has a need to be on top of my keyboard.
It's all about the cat…
I have trouble sleeping too. A cat would be a wonderful 2 am companion when that happens.