Issue 169, Spring 2004
I know your publication is a newsworthy one, so I know you’re used to getting letters about newsworthy stuff. You’d normally get a letter about flesh-eating streptococcus or severe acute respiratory syndrome. But I don’t know where else to turn. Tonight you’re it. So let me broach my complaint.
Sometimes it’s a noise that wakes me up. Mostly, I’m awake the rest of the night, brooding. Nine-thirty p.m., I’m a zombie, can’t keep an eye open, 4:57 a.m., it’s like the day has just dawned. Except it’s a day that includes only me.
Jeanine has the big job interview tomorrow. Today, really, since it’s 4:57. She’s been out of work for almost a year.
Times like these, a year out of work is rough on a person. Hard on the finances, too. We used to go out to a nice restaurant now and then. We used to travel. Jeanine worked in pharmaceutical promotions. I don’t have to tell you. You published articles about that sector.
Jeanine needs her sleep, and she usually gets it. I admire this about her. When I’m up, I’ll just go in there and look at her sleeping. Light from streetlamps out a window, this flatters anyone. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind. The planes of her cheekbones are divine. Nighttime is the one time she lets her hair be messy.
Jeanine’s asleep now. She was awake about 2:00, and then she was also awake at 4:09, which was when I awoke, because of the noise. I don’t know how to describe it. You’re a family magazine. It’s not coming from the apartment adjacent, at least I don’t think so. That’s an older couple. Last Christmas they played Irish folksongs most of the day. They could play reels and sing along, which made me sentimental, even through the wall.
I got these sound-blocking earphones for Xmas last year. From my brother-in-law. Ideally, you wear them on the plane. But I have them on right now, just in case. I listened to the noise for a while, at 10:15. when we hit the sack, again around 2:00, and then at 4:09, when Jeanine was weeping. I guess I was listening to Jeanine and listening to the sound. Weeping tends to color other sounds. Or maybe that’s just part of my insomniac philosophy. You have insomnia, you think about the deep questions. I just finished writing some notes to a friend in California about jazz fusion. Everybody hates jazz fusion, you know? I wrote some lines about whether it’s possible to have feelings about virtuosity, or just admiration.
The noise was mainly coming from a woman, I know that much. It was only coming from a woman. Must have been a singer or something. Flights up and down the register, variations in tempo. I read where some rock musician said a song has to speed up, you know, so it conveys an urgency. Same thing here. You want the cries of ecstasy to accelerate a little bit, because it indicates enthusiasm. This requires breath control.
Maybe you’d be surprised to know that I do yoga. I’m definitely the oldest guy in class, also the guy with the thickest waistline. That’s why I’m the guy who needs to be there the most. Yesterday, we were doing chants. I love the beginning and the end of class. I’m always falling asleep at the end, in the pose that’s called savasana. I get my best sleep there. Middle of the class, that’s like basic training. The reason I bring up yoga is that there was a guy in the class who is hilarious during the chants. So tone deaf he’s wobbling all over the place, trying to get to the notes. He goes up, doesn’t find the note there. He goes down. No luck there either.
The woman sounds a little like that.
It’s Jeanine’s second interview since she got downsized. In all this time, only two interviews. That would be enough to make her weep at 2:13 and 4:09, and probably she’s not unusual that way. But that’s not the only thing that’s supposed to happen tomorrow, which is technically today. I wasn’t going to say anything, because I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but if I don’t tell you, you won’t get a good picture of the situation. It’s like this. Jeanine’s parents have come to town. They’ve invited us to dinner.
Nothing unusual there. They usually come about this time of year. We go to hear a folk ensemble play a theater uptown.
There’s a section of the show, every year, where the whole audience goes into the aisles with the performers, singing about winter solstice. There’s something ludicrously beautiful about it. Something hokey, too. The audience is holding hands running up and down both aisles. How long can the song last? How long can it continue to scale these heights of hokeyness? With everyone dancing? A pretty long time, it turns out. I never perform this dance, because I’m shy, but I’m always glad when it happens.
Jeanine’s parents have not invited us out to dinner this year, however, to celebrate the solstice. She thinks they’re going to tell us about their divorce. This all started with gambling losses. I went with her dad to the casinos a few times. He liked to play the roulette wheel, which I think is the stupidest game of all. But there is one thing about roulette. It sounds great. I like the little ball hopping in the grooves, that’s a sound of destinies rising and falling. Same thing with dice on felt. Is there any sound as beautiful as the sound of dice on felt? Jeanine’s dad lost a hundred thousand dollars this way. Well, some of it had to do with professional sports, too. Meanwhile, her mother tried and tried and tried. Now she’s given up trying.
Do you think it’s acceptable to tell your family about a marital separation right before the holidays? Jeanine’s mom sells real estate in an upscale suburb, and she dresses elegantly.
At their house, the butter fork is always right where it’s supposed to be, by the butter plate. Her mom wouldn’t bring bad news. Not if she could help it. But you can hear in a conversation when a person can no longer forgive.
On the other hand, maybe Jeanine is interpreting things erroneously. The secret agreement of marriage is never open to the public, right? And the holidays are always trying to get you to think a certain way, which is the way where you dance in the aisles, celebrating the solstice. This year, Jeanine has not been dancing in the aisles. Which is why at two o’clock when she was awake, she was first to cry out, “How can it go on all night? It just can’t go on all night like that, I can’t take it!”
I held her. Which is what anyone would do under the circumstances. Not too many people are beautiful when they cry. Anguish is not attractive. You try not to comment. Often people hide their faces when they’re crying. Jeanine covers her face mostly, and so she’s lying with her head on my chest and I can start to feel my T-shirt soaking through a little bit.
Somewhere there’s the sound of that woman doing whatever it is she’s doing, which I guess I would describe as yelping.
If she’s not in the apartment adjacent to us, if she’s not house-sitting for the couple in their sixties, then where the heck is she? I don’t get to the question of location right then, though, because Jeanine’s awake, sobbing, because her parents are barely speaking to each other, and if she doesn’t get this job what are we going to do. I mean, we are maybe going to have to sell this place. We’ve got six months tops. These kinds of thoughts are known as racing thoughts, and normally I just don’t get those thoughts at 2:19 a.m. because I’m still trying to sleep off last night’s insomnia. The new episode doesn’t kick in till 3:00 or 3:30. Mostly around 4:15.
Your series of articles on depression was an eye-opener.
And I’m well aware that a change in sleep patterns or chronic middle-of-the-night insomnia can be symptoms of depression. But, frankly, I don’t have time to be depressed. I’m comptroller for a small business college. My responsibilities are many and varied. People rely on me.
When I can get two hours of not terribly restful sleep, I take them, two hours when, for example, there’s a duet of women’s voices in my apartment, the one voice being my wife, crying on and off, thinking hopeless thoughts to which I am not privy. The other voice being the voice of that woman.
The story is between the two of them for a while. I am in and out of my shallow sleep, testing out some new positions.
Here my left arm is pinioned under my hip, here I am trying to remember not to ball up my fists, because my primarycare physician indicated that this is contributing to my wrist problem. Here I am on my stomach, looking like a frog at his moment of greatest extension. Here I am on my back, hands clasped, as if in eternal repose.