Insomnia has cursed me for as long as I can remember. Often, I’m eating cereal at three am watching TV after trying in vain to fall asleep, or even worse, sleeping for two hours and waking up in the middle of the night with an acute sense of general worry.
But naps? Naps are no problem. Naps are my best friend. Sleeping during the day and not sleeping at night are, obviously, connected. My insomnia, I’ve realized, is a way for me to avoid the next day and it’s set of problems. “If you stay awake, going to work is even further away,” my subconscious reasons, hiding the melatonin from my conscious brain as I lay awake, blinking at the ceiling. Conversely, naps are a way to avoid your problems during daylight. “If you nap now,” my subconscious brain rationalizes, as my endocrine gland floods my body with that sweet, sweet melatonin, “you won’t have to do any of the things you have to be doing right now.”
And sometimes, when sleep comes for me, I go down hard, placing me one REM cycle away from a coma. I wake up from naps biting my own tongue, having fallen asleep so fast my tongue hasn’t had a chance to slide out of the way from my teeth. I’ve shown up to bartending shifts with sheet lines across my face. I have napped until minutes before shifts have started. I have napped straight through appointments.
But this one nap. Holy shit.
This one nap eclipses all naps. I still, almost ten years later, have no idea what happened.
It’s a Friday in July of 2011, 4th of July weekend. That evening, as we had decided two months earlier, I’m going on a roadtrip with a couple who I’ve vacationed with before, her brother and a dog. We’re driving from Chicago to New Hampshire. We’re not stopping overnight anywhere; this is a non-stop car ride, excluding gas and bathroom breaks. According to their estimates, since they all grew up in this New Hampshire beach town and have driven this route several times, should take 15 to 16 hours. We’re leaving in the early evening, placing at the boyfriend’s parents’ house mid-afternoon the next day.
In the weeks and hours leading up to this trip, a few things happen. I begin working a second bar job two months earlier. I am on my feet, bartending and cocktailing, averaging 70 hours a week. Why I did this to myself is another essay entirely. I would work 6 days a week, usually 12 hour days, and then drink for several hours afterwards, because wouldn’t you after serving people for that many hours a day? This left me with about 14 minutes of actual sleep, not passed out drunk sleep, per night.
A week or two before we leave, I realize my driver’s license is expired. I tell my friends this and explain I literally have no time in any day to take a driver’s test before we leave. They tell me not to worry, there’s three of them to drive.
Now, this trip is going to be the first time in months, maybe even longer, that I will have consecutive days off in a row. And part of that time will be jammed into a sedan with three other adults and a dog for 15 hours – this sounds awful to me. My goal is to sleep through this for at least a few hours. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep in the car since I haven’t been on a cross-country road trip solely as a passenger since I was a kid. My plan is to exhaust myself, ensuring my insomnia will not be a problem.
The morning we leave for the trip, I have booked an appointment to get a cavity filled at the earliest appointment slot, despite being up until four am the night before, working and drinking. After the cavity filling, I hurry to a nearby yoga studio to do hot yoga. Everytime I sip water, it runs down my face because my face is still numb. But I’m still not tired.
I go home and pack and clean and wait for my friends to pick me up. Despite being on a few hours of sleep, having dental work done, and working out in a 95 degree room, I’m wide awake. Finally, my friend calls and says she’s on her way to pick me up – except there’s a problem.
While she was working all day, her boyfriend, with the help of her brother, has been moving their shit into a new apartment and the couch is stuck, wedged into the stairs leading to their back door. They need our help, she apologizes.
“Moving a couch in humid hot ass weather?” I tell her. “This should do the trick.”
We spend the next hour or so pushing and pulling, pivoting and figuring out geometry before we give up and the couch is sent to live in the alley.
Still, even after sweating in the heat, showering, and eating, I’m wide awake in the backseat, talking and requesting music. We start driving around 8:30 at night. Eventually, everyone except the boyfriend who is driving, falls asleep. I, eventually, nod off, too.
At some blurry point late in the night, drivers are switching. Someone gently rouses me from my slumber and tells me to move into the front passenger seat. I collapse into the front as my friend slides behind the wheel. I’m sound asleep again within 30 seconds.
Later, there’s early morning light and I wake up briefly, my head bobbing to the movement of the car, my neck like a wet noodle. I look at the driver. I’m confused because it’s not my friend driving anymore, but her brother. I have no memory of the car stopping or anyone switching. After two seconds, I fall asleep again.
Now the sun is up and we’re getting gas. The boyfriend is behind the wheel. Again, no memory of this. My friend opens my car door. I blink into the air, confused. She makes me get up and walk into the gas station with her. I try to get out with the seatbelt still on. I eventually undo it and follow her, arms and face slack as we walk into the gas station. Barely awake, I stuff my arms full of snacks, pay for them, and shuffle back to the front seat. I sip an iced tea, and eat some candy. I’m asleep again in a minute.
I hear people saying my name. My eyes creak open. My head is at an angle so I’m staring directly into the back seat. The morning sun is gone and it’s mid-afternoon. Now the brother is driving.
“Wha,” I croak.
“We’re almost there,” the boyfriend tells me. “You’ve been asleep the entire time.”
“I have?” I sit up and look around. “The whole time? 15 hours?”
“Yeah,” my friend says, laughing. “Except it hasn’t been 15 hours. There was construction. You’ve been asleep for almost 18 hours.”
I wipe the drool off my face, but it dried hours ago. “Are you kidding?”
“No! And your neck has been doing some crazy shit. It was at an angle for an hour that I can’t even replicate. Like it had an extra joint.”
“You kept falling forward like you were dead and your face would nestle into your seatbelt like a sling,” the brother adds.
I rub my neck. “I kinda remember the seatbelt thing.”
“Also,” the boyfriend says. “We had a vote and you were voted the Most Useless Person in the car. It included the dog.”
“Well, he’s a good boy,” I say, as my eyelids start to close again.
“No! Wake up!”
the physical effects of sleeping sitting up in a car for 18 hours
We roll up to the boyfriend’s house a short while later. I somehow manage to stay awake. As the three of them greet family, I hang out with Skeeter the corgi, pointing and laughing at his body shape as the families ask, “Who is that girl? Is she on something?”
As we get ready for dinner, I walk in and show my friend my feet. They are swollen beyond recognition.
“Dude,” I gasp. “What the fuck happened to my feet? They’ve never done this before.”
She sighs. “We were in the car for 18 hours. And you didn’t move at all. What did you think would happen? That’s why you’re feet are swollen. Did you drink any water?”
“I had Twizzlers and an Arizona Iced tea. That’s the same, right?” I rub my neck. “God, my neck hurts.”
She looks at me. “You still have seatbelt lines in your face. Let’s go to dinner.”
it kept happening
The four us pile back into the car for the 10 mintute drive to the restuarant. And, I, because it is my natural state now, fall asleep.
Later in the parking lot, after almost nodding off during dinner, I walk outside holding my eyelids open to wake up. My friend follows me and asks, “Did you take something?”
“No, I don’t know what’s wrong. I think I’m fine now, though. But if I fall asleep before the entrees, stab me with your fork.”
After dinner, we go back to the house and watch a movie. Ten minutes in, I fall asleep. Of course.