As the sun slumps down into its nested bed, bathing the earth with only a soft glow and slipping eventually into darkness, Melanie Lucas notices a hard lump forming in her chest. She knows that the knot is a problem, and worries about it. The more she worries, the more tense she becomes, and as the sun closes its eyes in slumber, along with the rest of the world, Melanie lies awake, listening to the sounds of the night.
The traffic dies down first. Then the sounds of children’s voices calling to each other in their evening activities fade away. Finally the night creatures deem it safe to emerge and begin this nightly songs.
“I hear ghosts at night - I hear everything. All sorts of animals. My senses seem to heighten and they seem to be laughing at me, their little sing-song voices taunting me, calling me to come join them in their nocturnal adventures.”
Melanie has not slept more than four hours at a time in 23 years. She remembers the day that she stopped sleeping. It was 1986 and she was a senior in high school. Her father, also a light sleeper, often shuffled downstairs to the kitchen, off of which was Melanie’s room and rummaged through the refrigerator. Often Melanie would often come out and join him, sipping a glass of milk or orange juice with a splash of cayenne pepper - her father’s concoction. They would talk and laugh softly as to not wake anyone else in the house. They were stolen moments, alone with her father while everyone else slept.
Melanie’s schools activities were picking up - cheerleading, the school play, and writing poetry she submitted to magazines. Her body was changing and she was sleeping longer and heavier, often missing her father and their late night chats.
The night “it” happened - Melanie calls the night “it” after the Steven King character in his horror movie “It” where the demonic creatures trolls the sewers and dark places in a small Maine town - Melanie was sleeping soundly. She woke only when she heard the crash, stumbled into the kitchen and fumbled for the light switch. Her father was sprawled on the floor, the two glasses of milk he’d poured sitting on the table. She didn’t have to lean down to know he was dead, but did anyway, lying beside him willing him to open his eyes. Her mother and siblings came running down the stairs and chaos and wailing and bright flashing lights wrecked the night and the family for years to come.
Melanie was terrified of the night after that. She began to look like a shell of her former self, her hair grew thing and began falling out, her cheeks hollowed and the soft spots under her eyes looked like bruised peach slices.
She would rock herself in her bed, listening to the sounds of the night. The crash played over and over in her head and she wondered why she didn’t wake up to share a glass of milk with him. Or save him.
The family dealt with their grief in their own ways. Melanie’s was to relive the event over and over in her head in the dark hours of the night. She soon grew to dread the dark and hated the sun slipping beyond her reach, much as her father had as he slipped from this world.
“Sometimes it seems that train to Slumberland just passes by me completely and I'm left staring after it with burning eyes as a sadistic conductor gives me the finger. [author unknown]”
“I don’t know who wrote this (let me know and I’ll be sure to credit you!) but once I read a great line about insomnia: sometimes it seems that train to Slumberland just passes by me completely and I'm left staring after it with burning eyes as a sadistic conductor gives me the finger. This is so true.”
Teachers began calling and sending concerned notes home with Melanie, which she left on the table and found the next morning unopened, where she swept them into the trash. Eventually though her mother started taking her to doctors, who prescribed every sleeping aid, drug, and technique known to man. Nothing worked.
“I did sleep studies at the hospital; I participated in drug trials for sleeping. Nothing worked.”
She began being able to fall asleep for stretches of four hours, but like clockwork, nearly to the hour, she’d wake up in a panic. But she began to at least plan her schedule around grabbing four hour stretches wherever she could.
Melanie’s spot became the chair by her window where she’d look out over the backyard and up at the stars. She started telling stories to her father to pass the time, hoping he could hear her.
“I used to tell him what was happening at school and with the rest of the family, just like I used to do when we’d sit and drink our milk. I told him about how mad I was that my younger brother and sisters didn’t seem to care; that they didn’t seem to miss him at all. I read him some of the (terrible) poetry I’d written.”
Eventually though, every night, she’d run out of enough things to say to him to fill up the long hours where she’d stare out at the yard. She started slipping outside to sit in the lawn chair where she watched the nocturnal dealings that took place. Little yellow eyes would gleam from across the way or on the fence, soft rustlings in the grass, bugs scurrying around foraging for food, out of the heat. Slowly her fear of the dark dissipated and she came to peace with the night.
Melanie still doesn’t sleep more than four hours at any one time. Many nights she gets by on just a couple of hours of sleep. She has learned the art of concealing her dark circles with make-up, and has a sofa in her office for when she needs to crash out for a few winks.
“Even when I dream, I don’t dream of my father. The only time I feel really close to him is when I go and sit outside, watching the sky, listening to the goings-on in the night. People think it’s really quiet, and comparatively it is, but the night brings out a whole new world. I’d give it up all up for just one more night talk with my dad drinking OJ and cayenne, but I’ll have to make do with whispering my bad poetry to him from the night lawn.”
Thank you Melanie, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®