99 Sleepless Nights

by Carolin Messier


I understand why some men pay for sex. Lately I’ve considered hiring a professional myself. Not to turn me on and get me off, I can handle that alone, just as the men who meet women in motels, cars and alleys learned to do as boys. Conversation doesn’t interest me either; I have plenty of close friends and acquaintances who fill that need. Nor does nighttime companionship without complication; I’m not lonely, just alone, and I like my own company. I just can’t sleep.

Going to bed is the worst time of the day. Before I met William I never had trouble sleeping alone. Ever since I was a baby I’ve been a “good sleeper”. Trouble falling asleep has rarely been a malady I’ve had to cope with. And that’s still the case. I’m no insomniac. But the day he died lasted 46 hours and in the 100 days since, I’ve had one, single, good night of sleep. It’s not the falling asleep that’s the problem; it’s going to bed, lying down, and closing my eyes that I struggle with.

The first hurdle each night is leaving the couch. William’s cat Boo-Boo and I have gotten into a rhythm since we adopted each other. After her evening bowl of canned food with extra gravy, she leads me to the couch so that I can sit down and create a lap for her. She’s quite vocal about it. It’s amazing the volume that can come out of such a small creature. Within a couple of evenings she had me well trained. After 10 to 20 minutes of brushing and petting, she settles in for her post-dinner nap, her tail curled around to cover her nose. First my knees, then thighs, then the rest of my body relaxes under the breathing, purring weight of her as I read or watch a movie. I’m a morning person and for me waking up at 6 am after eight hours of sleep is the perfect way to start a day. Now though it’s well past midnight and already morning before I manage to set aside my living heating pad and drag myself off to the empty, uninviting bed.

All of those relaxed muscles tense as I crawl between the sheets. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’ve cried a dozen times or only once in a day. The moment I close my eyes to sleep is when I see my grief the clearest. That’s when I see the loving looks and hear his quirky sayings. It’s when I see the pain of his anguish and despair in the end. It’s when I see the days and years ahead without him. And it’s when I see the violence of his death. Most nights I play a little piece of music on my phone and slip it under my pillow so that it fills my head. It’s a Gregorian chant, soothing and meditative. It’s only seven minutes and forty-three seconds long and I never hear the end of it, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep. But the anticipation and dread of that first minute when I close my eyes tortures me and keeps me up.

Sex isn’t what I’m after; it’s sleep, but I need to feel another breathing being nearby to coax me from the couch and Boo-Boo won’t sleep on the bed like she used too. The first five evenings after William died, she’d jump up onto his side of the bed, onto the duvet that should have covered his body but laid flat. I’m no expert on feline body language and expression, but she looked confused and lost. After sniffing her way from footboard to pillow, she’d leave, and hasn’t been back up on the bed since.

During the first couple of weeks, one of my sisters and a few friends ushered me to bed each night and sometimes sat with me until I fell asleep, but I always woke early after only three or four hours. After everyone flew home and I was alone in the house, I endured some sleepless nights and then asked some friends who live locally to come for a brief visit at bedtime and sit with me until I drifted off. Everyone I asked said they were happy to do anything they could to help, but not a single one has made it over in the late evening. I don’t fault them for it. Bedtime is an intimate space whether it’s a pair of lovers who share it or a mother reading a child a goodnight story. Once we outgrow grade school slumber parties, it’s not a time that many friends share.

I do understand why some men pay for sex. It’s easier to pay someone for the service, to receive what we need from a stranger, than to risk rejection or deal with the complication of emotions with someone we know and care about. At this point I’m so exhausted that I’m willing to pay someone for an hour of their time to see me off to sleep. It would be worth it. But I won’t. I’ll keep asking friends and promising myself to be asleep by ten and breaking that promise until eventually I don’t.

Or should I just get a dog?