When I can’t sleep I try imagining myself stepping onto an escalator. I watch each step collapse into the next and picture myself traveling down the steps, deeper into sleep. This doesn’t really work all that well. Here’s what does: I imagine myself asleep in different beds of my past. Not those beds. My childhood bed works some of the time, imagining my blue patchwork comforter, the one with my name on it. I imagine each square of it. My mother had it made for me, and I remember the day we designed it. She had me decide what I wanted to appear in each square. A kitty with a small gold bell around it’s neck. A pair of ice skates. An apple tree. I wish I still had it, but it was lost in a move. I angled my bed on the diagonal, which at the time seemed like the coolest thing to do. Something so small, like that, made me happy. Look, how cool am I? My bed isn’t up against a wall anymore. I felt sophisticated, as if my mother let me wear red polish.
I imagine the Laura Ashley wallpaper, my sister down the hall, my parents upstairs, peeking in to check on me, in my twin bed. When I’ve exhausted the memory, I visit the beds of college, in my different dorm rooms from year to year, in my apartment on 55th Street. And it’s always comforting and alarmingly real. It’s as if it were yesterday, in that green bedding, piped with gold, beneath a Beatles poster, with an exam come morning. It’s surprising how well it works, going back. How calming.
Sleep is one of the only ways we can go back. A friend asked me recently how things were, and I confided, "It’s wonderful, but that being said, it’s also forever, ya know? Like you can’t undo it. Not that I want to, at all, but it’s not like I could just move back into my old one-bedroom of a life. It’s a forever choice, obviously, but when you’re deciding to have kids, it feels more like an activity. You try. You fail. You cry when you get your period. Trying becomes so much of your life, you don’t really focus on the fact that it’s a forever choice you’re making. You look at pregnant women on the street with awe. You want that so damn much. You maybe don’t think about how this is it. Your life will never again be the same. Kids are forever."
Or at least we hope so because from what I’ve heard from family lately, it goes by way too fast. "And then suddenly you’re sixty," Carol says, "but you feel 43. And you can’t believe it’s you in there anymore." I understand this now because when I awake, I realize I’m in a different bed, in a different state, with a different life… the one I’ve always wanted. And with it comes new fears. Fears of keeping it. Kids might be forever, but along with them come a set of fears and worries.
Lately I’ve been having nightmares. There’s been talk of our wills and life insurance. How much insurance would really be enough so we could live off the interest until the kids graduate college? Being responsible parents, we’re thinking of all the what ifs. And I began crying, thinking of our children going to live with a relative IF. How do you choose who that relative is? I cried harder thinking of the IFs that revolved around Phil. His father died when he was eight. What IF? He doesn’t eat vegetables or fruit. I held him tight and cried into him. "I never want to lose you," and I hated that they were just words. "You and me, our children, we’re a family, and that is the most important thing in my life." I despise that there are no guarantees in this life, and we’re sometimes, actually almost always, left to navigate through change ourselves. I’d raise Lucas and Abigail by myself. We’d have to move. We could no longer afford this life. I’d have to uproot them from the home they knew, away from the memories with their father. Children are resilient creatures, I tell myself. I’m strong, I say. But those are just words. In the living of loss, you spend your days wishing you were still asleep, that it was all just a nightmare, and someone will walk in soon, waking you from slumber, comforting you in the middle of the night, in the bed you live in.