When I Could Sleep All Night: A Memoir

Staring at the ceiling, convincing myself I’m asleep.

My eyes are closed, but I see its pristine whiteness shattering the dark.

Why can’t I be like so many others, just get into bed – exhausted after a long, stressful day – turn off the light and zone out. Ten, minutes, twenty? IMG_2197

But no. Two hours, four. Then, dozing for brief, broken periods.

The bliss of sweet dreams never embraces me, nor comforts my anxious mind, or soothes my taut nerves.

I can’t sleep, simple as that.

Visions of smirking, metered business envelopes dance in my head;  worries – real or just feared – of potential illnesses, accidents, homelessness, torture my vulnerable soul.

Nightmares of chasing someone I love to save their life, but my steps don’t progress, stuck in place, powerless…

The obscurity is my enemy, my captor.

There was a time – when I was growing up in Italy – that my bedroom door had a large etched glass panel in the center, and a gentle light always eased the shadows of the night. Or, till late evening at least. But I never saw it disappear, because I was fast asleep long before it was turned off.

It came from the kitchen, the light that alleviated the night terrors. It was her, my mother, working late, prepping for the following day – get that pot filled with water on the stove, soak that half a kilo of dry beans overnight, open the new packet of coffee and leave it on the counter, place the apricot jam merendine on the table, so we kids would at least grab one before running off to school, a little something in our belly.

A chair being dragged (perhaps to a cabinet she couldn’t reach), the faucet turned on, the clear dispensing of water, soothing and natural. Her padded steps always quick, alert, measured, even after a day of work and the thousand other things a mother does so that all flows smoothly.

Sometimes muffled voices seeped in with the light, the small television on the counter, turned down several notches, when she’d be sitting in one of the stiff kitchen chairs, watching some late night program, because it was the first chance she had to relax a bit.

Others, only the placid sound of almost-silence came through, the whispery rustling of pages being turned, and, though I couldn’t see her, I knew she was there, reading glasses in place, catching up with a novel that she never found time to read, or a women’s magazine, her eyes drawn to recipes. Or to love stories she didn’t believe in any more. Because life is hard and crushes everything. Duties, responsibilities, is all that you’re handed, at the end, and they will forever replace your youthful expectations.

My sister and I would talk for a bit, in mindful whispers, so my father wouldn’t come in aMara, St. Augustine, on bench, back to camera, August 2015nd insist we go to sleep/it’s really late/you have school tomorrow. Her words would begin to trail off, as she adjusted her head on the pillow and abandoned herself to slumber. I resisted longer, serene in that refuge of security that was my soft bed, my pink room and the kind light
warming the door. She was there, mamma, protective and vigilant, making sure we would wake up to a benevolent world. Then my eyelids resisted no more and I slowly fell asleep, lulled by the hum of all is well with the world.

And so it was.

Oh, to have the etched glass panel again


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