Sleep: an Inn for Phantoms

I’ve never been particularly good at sleeping, and when Fuzzy is away for business my sleep patterns get even more skewed from the usual, fairly nocturnal schedule we generally keep. Why? Because in addition to being a reluctant sleeper, I also have a vivid imagination. Even when Fuzzy is home I’m often caught in dreams that are strange, disturbing, or just plain scary, but when he’s away the phantoms come out to play.


To be honest, I’ve always been easily spooked at night. I’m not afraid of the dark – I actually prefer a room to be as cool and dark as possible when I’m trying to sleep, but that state of mind that comes just as I’m falling asleep leaves me stuck in a sort of personal Twilight Zone, albeit one without Rod Serling’s narration.

The thing is, it’s not every night, and it doesn’t seem to have a trigger. Instead, I have a kind of…eerie mood…and when it strikes I know I’ll be lying awake, quietly freaking out over every little sound. As a teenager, I would combat these moods either by reading until the sun was up or I literally fell asleep with the book in my hands (whichever came first), or by turning on the radio. Many nights were spent listening to the Larry King Show on AM radio, and I still remember some of the interviews. (That’s also the show that introduced me to the song “Talkin’ Baseball,” which remains a favorite even today.)

Larry King hasn’t been on the radio in decades, so on those nights when Fuzzy is away and the eerie mood descends upon my brain, I turn on NPR, which usually means that I go to bed hearing the BBC overnight service and wake up to Morning Edition. Except, I’m not really hearing any of it, because I keep the volume just at the edge of being able to discern individual words.

I’m not sure why the radio works for me, or why it has to be talk radio, specifically. I mean, music wires me, so I know why that doesn’t work but… Anyway, my current theory is that hearing live radio reminds me that there is a living world outside my head, and therefore the mental ghosts don’t have real power.

Of course, sleeping with three dogs in my room (at least two of which are usually in the bed with me) is helpful, as well. If I wake in the night, convinced that I heard a sound, I watch the dogs. If they don’t react, I know there’s no threat outside of my imagination.

The repose of sleep refreshes only the body. It rarely sets the soul at rest. The repose of the night does not belong to us. It is not the possession of our being. Sleep opens within us an inn for phantoms. In the morning we must sweep out the shadows. ~Gaston Bachelard

Thump, Thump, Draaaag.

A box of birthday invitations I saw in the grocery store the other day has been haunting my brain, looking for something to connect with. My birthday is four months away, so it wasn’t anything literal.

I cast backward into memory searching for the relationship, and found a birthday party for my friend Joy that I attended when I was eight or nine. I don’t remember the party; I do remember the lights being turned off, all of us being sacked out around the dining room and living room, and her older sister telling ghost stories, the kind that involve hooks in doors and young girls being attacked by madmen (general escaped criminals) on their way to parties just like this one.

One such story ended with the young girl in question having her hands and feet cut off, climbing the stairs as best she could, with the party invitation gripped in her mouth.

Thump, thump, draaaaag.

From this grim tail, I remembered a later evening, also dark, when my mother, step-father and I sat around the dining room table and listened to a science fiction radio drama while a storm blasted icy rain at the windows.

For all the blood, guts, and gore that movies show, I believe that radio, and now pod-cast dramas, are scarier, because what you imagine is so much worse than what can be shown on screen.

It is because of this that when someone mentions Bill Cosby, my first connection isn’t Jell-o or his television show. It’s Chickenheart.