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Sleeping Seattle

Sleep has been drug-free for over a week.

Dropping the trazodone was big enough I couldn’t go cold turkey. A little Ambien won’t hurt for a couple weeks, the doc says, clearing me of conscious embarrassment. While a quarter-tablet of the popular sleepwalk toot could be seen as switching evils, it’s not like adding tranquilizers on top of psychotropics to deal with the side effects. I know it’s not completely honest but staring at the ceiling between bouts of tossing and hearing every little noise isn’t a way up the mountain either.

So I take the Ambien, a crumbly near-quarter of a half. Compared to trazodone, Ambien is a dolphin BMW: smooth and perfectly balanced, an fine and luxurious entry and easy exit. Just enough to stay knocked out and get through to morning with a clear head. Waking with Ambien is like having your teeth already brushed, the sun shining, the world smooth.

The last week in Hawaii I can get by without it. The landlady and I enjoy a tall boy and talk about things, and there are some additional Hawaiian specialties that help with sleep. (They turn anxiety into a hilarious, distant shadow.) I go for walks and think the land’s thoughtless thinking. Sleep is rich and doesn’t end.

The first week back I’m nibbling at pills again. The first night trying without the wind rustles every leaf and every passing car, in its suburban smoothness, is louder than the jacked up unmufflered Hawaiian specials that tore up and down the Hilo street. An hour’s turning is enough and entry into sleep a relief.

Looking at houses is exhausting. Calling unemployment, figuring out what paperwork to send for the rental car scratch, remembering how to drive in traffic is exhausting. The first Friday back I have a morning free and swim for two hours. The pool is warm but the day is overcast and cool; I don’t stop much, to stay warm. That evening it feels like tough middle school Fridays, tested out in math and science, ready to go home and go to bed. In the drawer, the pill bottle is oversized and far too large for the small pills. I look in at it for long minutes and then close the drawer.

I sleep. For a moment I have doubt, and think, but I remember to breathe, and that is all I remember now: breath like a stream would breathe, the room dark with leaves in the window. I slept the whole night. When I woke the light was grey and early and I realized I had slept, not like a baby but like a tired man with no help but tired. I knew I could do it then, and I have kept on.

I’ve felt more tired and slept later, maybe because I can, perhaps because of something else. The drug companies don’t really know what these things do to you, or what you do to yourself when the drugs stop. Maybe drugs smother consciousness and theirs is a false sleep, a Potemkin village of rest where peeking behind sleep shows only hollow faces and people too stressed to be renewed. Once the props and scaffolds fall away there is only the raw plain of a drawn-out world, and all that is left is to sleep.


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