I had trouble sleeping through the night in high school: insomnia. But I hated the label.
It is a stupid and hateful prejudice that words are truth-bearers. I remember those torturous dark nights spent shifting beneath my blankets: the desperation of those countless hours I spent tossing and turning. I felt like I was lost in a thick mist. I tried everything: supplements, meditation, exercises. But nothing brought me any nearer that gentle foretaste of death. Insomnia: what nerve it must take to reduce it all to four digestible syllables.
They knew all there was to know about my life, those doctors. I will grant them that. I am no vitalist. I do not believe in the fideism of the first person. If there was something to be known about my insomnia they knew it. But knowledge itself is an escape from living: the temptation to reduce the flesh to the phoneme. I myself have never been one for self-deception. But that is why I had trouble sleeping.
It was unbearable not being able to dream. I had no escape from my ruminations. My vision would darken; I would lose my sense of corporality: but still thought remained, un-embodied like a spectral consciousness contemplating the void.
I took up cycling. I reasoned that it might exhaust me. To that end it failed. But I stuck with the habit. I found relief in its naked mechanism: its lifeless motion freed me from myself. For the Ego would abdicate on those those long cold rides; and I have always been more than half the trouble of my sleeplessness.
I would ride my bicycle down to the lake. There was a bike path that ran the whole length of the lakeshore. But I preferred the boardwalk on the other side of the dewy grass: beside the black water that crashed against the shoreline.
The beach was like an open tomb sprawling on for miles. Even the seagulls and geese had long departed its sands for elsewhere. In the middle of the night no soul could disturb me: not even my own. I remember the cold, moist air rushing my cheeks: the up and down of the uneven planks beneath me; it was all so inhuman: so desolate, like fragments of a time before us or visions of what is yet to be accomplished.
Then it happened.
That night I had taken my usual route down to the lake. It was late spring and the water level had been rising for the last month. Each night that I returned I found that the lake had taken more ground in its slow advance upon the boardwalk. Its black waters had already swallowed up the beach and now threatened to uproot the ancient fern trees.
It was not until I had returned home that I began to feel uneasy: that I had the unmistakable feeling that I had seen something unnatural: that in the midst of nature’s dark tapestry a seam had come undone and that I alone had witnessed it.
It is hard to explain even all these years later. I had seen something that should not have been: a hole in the fabric of the universe, like a gap in the night: an irreconcilable difference: an indivisible remainder.
That thing: I do not mean to suggest that it had spoken to me. How could it? It had no mouth. It lacked anything animal. I am reluctant to even call it intelligent. But it called me all the same and I understood. I am certain that it had. Language runs only so deep. But there are darker and more terrifying forms of communication that, like the silent dialogue between predator and prey, broach something more primordial than thought.
I had all the reason in the world to doubt that it had even happened. I was an insomniac after all. I reasoned that I had in all likelihood hallucinated the entire event: that I had thought it up in bed and frightened myself with phantoms of my own making. I had quite the imagination it was true and had given myself to morbid fantasies in the past.
Still it nagged at me: the irrevocable sense that somehow it was real: that black miracle: that impossible event that had shattered my mental architecture. It was like vertigo made concrete: a speculative dizziness at the heart of the world. I felt unbalanced and hopeless precisely because the source of this uneasiness seemed to be the world itself.
I had lived for those dark nights when I would disappear into nature. Even the threating tide had unburdened me: let it wash away the horizon, I had thought: the better that I too might disappear into the night. That all seemed like cosmic narcissism to me now. That thing had shattered me. It had revealed a universe impossible to reconcile oneself with. That night I felt like mystic torn from the godhead. Terrible to admit, but too terrible to ignore: that thing had ruptured the darkness.
But I would have noticed something like that at the time, I told myself. The dawn had come and I was clinging to the last vestige of my reason. In those days I still believed in the transparency of mind; that what is presented in consciousness is clear and distinct: that no perception is too small to light up the mind’s eye. It was inconceivable that I could have seen something like that and not have noticed until I had gotten home. The alternative was too terrible to fathom: that all the horror in the world could dance before my waking eyes and leave only the faintest trace to resurface some hours later. The mere suggestion threatened to drive me mad.
Then my alarm went off. I had a cold shower to rouse myself and went to school. That whole day I could think of nothing else. It was not the first time I had gone to class without sleeping at all the night before. My mother had spoken with my teachers and they left me alone to the best of their abilities. Still: my history teacher teased me for daydreaming. It seemed that I had been staring out the window all class long.
That evening I kept to myself. My mother knew better than to bother me when I had not slept. I tried to distract myself with homework: then books and even household tasks. But nothing would do. I even tried sleeping though I knew that was hopeless.
It was unbearable waiting for the night. But when it came I did not linger. It is strange to admit but I felt like something was guiding me: not guiding me so much as compelling me, like some occult force acting on me at a distance or a dark and alien purpose motivating my actions from an indistinct future.
It was cool down by the water. I could feel the cold sweat soaking my t-shirt. I somehow knew exactly where to meet it. I left my bike propped against a bench and advanced on the half-submerged dock, stepping over yellow caution tape raised to keep me from danger. The cold water filled my boots, but I had an irresistible urge to keep going: we had an elective affinity that thing and I. I had no sight of it and could not have recognized it if I had. But there was no question. It was calling me: I shut my eyes. Then I entered the water.
The next thing I remember I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror with an acute sense of guilt: not the totalizing of religion; for this was no question of sin. I knew that I would not be forgiven and on a deeper level that I done had nothing to be forgiven for: that no one could ever be forgiven.
I heard a door slam shut: in hindsight it must have been my mother leaving for work. I tucked myself into bed and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
I missed the next couple weeks of school. It seemed like all at once I had made up for my years of sleeplessness. That lingering sense of guilt stayed with me during my waking hours until it too receded into oblivion. In time I forgot the whole ordeal.
It was only when I had started working nights that bits and pieces of it all started to come back to me. It started with an almost subterranean sense of discomfort. Then isolated thoughts would resurface all at once.
Tonight I feel myself inching my way back to the lake. It is pointless to resist the inevitable. I write this only as a way of biding time.