Academic journal article TriQuarterly

Bed Times

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

Bed Times

Article excerpt

I used to have a lover who sleepwalked. In the dead of night, suddenly, he would rise without a word, a dark figure pulled up headfirst, then chest, belly, hips, legs, which he would swing onto the floor to begin his nocturnal ballet. His movements were so fluid when he sleepwalked, much more than in waking life, when his gait was choppy, full of fits and starts. Asleep, he would glide from the bedroom through the little hallway into the living room and the kitchen, then back to the little hallway again.

Whether myth or fact, I believed that rousing him from his peripatetic slumber might fill him with such rage that he would turn into a monster and rip me to shreds. So I never, ever startled him. But it was disconcerting to wait in bed while a flesh-and-blood ghost meandered through the rooms; you never knew what he might do. I used to think that Lorena Bobbitt had been sleepwalking when she wandered into her kitchen, fetched the knife, and detached her husband's penis. But then I realized that she probably had been sleepwalking all her life and that she had never, before that fateful moment, been more awake.

"Alfredo," I would say, in the softest possible voice, "shall we go to bed?" He would look at me with "eyes open, sense shut," as the Bard said, resist a little, seem mildly disgruntled, but then, follow me obediently back to bed. In the morning, he never remembered his nighttime excursion.

Lady Macbeth, you'll recall, sleepwalked, too. But she had something to sleepwalk about. Tortured by her husband's deadly deeds, in which she was entirely complicit, she walked the night, asleep, trying to wash the bloodstains from her hands. But before her guilt turned her into a tormented somnambulant, her husband had lost all ability to sleep. "Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more!'" says MacBeth. "Macbeth does murder sleep--the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care, the death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast." What greater loss?

Sometimes our beds become our whole worlds. Anatole Broyard in his acclaimed memoir, Intoxicated By My Illness, tells how his friend Paul Breslow, who died of cancer, spent the last three or four months of his life trying to finish a novel. "Imagine a man in a hospital bed, regularly racked by spasms, unable to sit up or move, looking death in the face at the age of forty-seven--imagine such a man trying to write a witty, metaphysical novel," writes Broyard. "On a contraption suspended over his bed, he wrote lying down," Broyard continues, "his hand moving very slowly because of his illness. It felt odd, he said, to write in a horizontal position, and he wondered whether it would make his sentences sound passive or labored or idle ... He played with writing, reveled in it, as if he were having a last fling." Though Broyard's friend wrote and wrote, death's hand, not his own, put an end to the novel.

Instead of a prison, bed can be a fantasyland, especially for children. It's where Sleeping Beauty napped for a hundred years and stayed beautiful, and where Rip Van Winkle, asleep for just twenty years, turned into an old man. As I look back, I think that jumping on the bed was one of the most luscious of childhood privileges, begrudgingly tolerated by parents who remember how much they loved jumping on beds when they were small.

My first and best childhood friend Carolyn and I used to spend hours on my bed, where we invented our own language, which consisted of Donald Duck-like squawks that even we sometimes failed to understand. I met Carolyn in the first grade and loved her madly for the next twelve years. In the second grade, Carolyn jazzed up hum-drum, clear-framed eyeglasses by painting them fire engine red with nail polish. By the ninth grade, she was quoting Socrates to our religion teacher, Father Bob. …

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