What Dreams May ComeSam Osterhout
In re: GOING TO SLEEP
It’s 4 a.m. Do you hear that outside? Someone named Kenny just yelled outside our window in the East Village at someone named Steven. Kenny told Steven that he should put his falafel in a place not usually meant for falafel.
This sort of discussion very rarely took place in Kansas, where I grew up. Not even during the day. If this conversation had taken place in Kansas, we all would have fainted. Also, there’s really no falafel in Kansas to speak of.
Your mother’s asleep. She makes this little noise with her nose when she sleeps, and I call it her little song. But really, she’s just snoring. You’re inside of her. I read that when pregnant women move, the babies shoosh around in there, which causes them to sleep. And when the moms sleep, the shooshing stops and the babies wake up.
So you and I are both sitting here, awake in the East Village listening to a conversation between two drunks and to your mother’s little song. I like that we get to share this moment together already, imperfect and strange as it is. How’s it going in there?
Even if we’re not doing it right now, going to sleep is something you’ll do a lot of. Practically every day (although I think with you on the way, I have a few more sleepless nights ahead of me). In fact, going to sleep will be a major part of your life.
The point is, we all sleep a lot, some more than others. Which brings up an even bigger point. If you learn nothing else from this memo, learn that there is a huge range of normal in our species. Normal has a broad spectrum for humans. You may think that you are not normal, but you are. Consider the size of the universe. It’s huge! Relatively speaking, you’re not very special. But, hey! Who is?
I guess that’s my point.
Some people sleep 10 or even 12 hours a day, while others sleep four or possibly even two hours. The extremes are extreme, of course, but it’s a range and it happens. In other words, whatever you decide to do, you’ll be fine.
Sometimes, you’ll need something to help you sleep. When I was 12, I listened to Simon and Garfunkel every night as I went to bed. I had it on tape (I’ll discuss what tapes are another time). I would rewind the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” over and over and over. There were scary, sad things happening in my house back then, none of which I could possibly have understood, and all of which, it turns out, are unfortunately within that broad spectrum of normal. While every family’s dissolution is unique, still, millions of families dissolve. That song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” comforted me as I went to sleep.
Art Garfunkel sings that song, but for some reason I believed that Murphy Brown sang it.
Let me tell you a little about her — Murphy Brown was the title character of a sitcom that ran from 1988 until 1998. Murphy Brown, played by Candace Bergen, was a middle-aged recovering alcoholic TV journalist who returned to her job after a stay at the Betty Ford clinic only to find that her new producer was a brainy wiz-kid half her age. Poor Miles. He never stood a chance.
I was in love with Murphy Brown. And because somehow I convinced myself she sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” every night as I drifted off to sleep, I imagined she was singing it to me.
I was a fat, although very tan (Gramma Sue always said tan fat is better than pale fat), 12-year-old, and I was in love with a middle-aged recovering alcoholic. For what it’s worth, Candace Bergen was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood in her day, although she was never physically my type.
Anyway. Here’s the thing about going to sleep: it’s usually dark and silent, and you’re usually alone. And if you can’t sleep right away you’re left to think about your life, even if you’re only 12. And if your life is sad and scary just then, as sometimes it will be (I’m so sorry), then going to sleep will also feel sad and scary and lonesome. I know that for certain, because when I was a fat, albeit tan, 12-year-old, I felt sad and scared but not lonesome because I had Murphy Brown. Kansas is so dark at night. It’s hard to describe except to say it’s a dark that you can’t even imagine, not even when you’re in it. There’s no light, but there are stars. I’d stare out my window at night, into that terrible darkness, up at the sky, and as Murphy Brown sang to me, I’d quietly slip away into the giant universe.
I hope you don’t have to do that. I hope I can send you backpacking through Europe. I hope I can show you the amazing darkness of Kansas. I hope that you can sleep through the sounds of the East Village, like your mother. And I hope you know that when you feel scared and sad, I’ll be there to sing you to sleep.