I was fully employed at the time our first baby arrived. My job description read: “Must enjoy people, have experience as a concierge, tour-guide, chambermaid and stand-up comedian as well as posses a broad knowledge of the building trades, bookkeeping and horticulture. Should feel confident faking everything else.”
The fact is, my wife and I own a small Bed and Breakfast style Inn.
“What’s wrong with your dog?” one of our Inn guests queried. The dog had one glazed eye forced open and her head was lolling from side to side like a bobble-head toy with a broken spring. “Sleep deprivation.” I explained, my voice revealing a painful intimacy with the answer. The dog looked how I felt. We were both, the dog and I, casualties of a phenomenon known as: “Your first baby who doesn’t sleep and is getting even for every evil deed you ever contemplated.”
Our daughter, Ariel Zoe, had proven, that in the first six months of life, a human child could get by on less than three hours of sleep a day. She also demonstrated how this must be accomplished while held in arms, because the colic, cramps and baby constipation would kick in any time that she lay prone The writhing, screaming fit that followed was keyed by Nature to torture new parent with feelings of ineptitude and unworthiness.
My nerves were rapidly coming un-raveled due to consistent lack of sleep. Our Bed and Breakfast was going gangbusters with guests checking-in till midnight and breakfast always cheerfully served by 7: 00 A.M. I was trying to conscientiously cover the late and early shifts for, after all, my wife had gone through the labor and she was the one nursing. I guess I’m just a sensitive guy. But after six months I was dull, unresponsive and semi-hallucinatory. The dog finally had enough and moved out of the bedroom.
Desperate for sleep, maddened by the list of chores, I searched and found an hour when I might steal a quick nap. Clumsily I lumbered for the bedroom, jerked down the shades as I unplugged the phone, and chose the feather pillow with the best sound-deadening qualities to schmoosh over my ears. Taking one last, deep breath I drifted off and thought, “ Oh my god, I only have one hour to sleep!” Panicked, over-tired and cross-wired I tried, time and time again, to will my racing thoughts toward the void. With my eyes stuck wide open, repose abandoned me by leaving in its place a mind numbing certainty that I would never, ever sleep again.
A friend gave me some “natural” remedy, a milk derivative, called something like L-Tryptophane. It was supposed to put you to sleep, naturally. I took them judiciously. I think I later heard that the remedy was recalled because it caused heart attacks. No matter, not the Big Sleep or any sleep was coming my way.
One morning, while serving breakfast for a table full of animated guests, I suffered a fundamental, emotional breakdown. I had retuned to the kitchen to refill the carafe of coffee. As I wheeled about to leave with the full pot, I hesitated, clutched blindly at the kitchen wall and started to sob,” I can’t go back out there, can’t go back on stage!” My wife came to comfort me. I sputtered and bawled, “I don’t want to be the perfect butler any more”. She told me to get some sleep.
At those words, the certainty that I must get away from everything welled up in me from primordial depths. My demented sanity demanded that I flee. I grabbed a roll-a-way cot from the Inn and banged and bounced it down, step by step, into the sanctuary of the dark, dank bowels of the basement. I was certain that the furnace room held my salvation. Our furnace was a monster. Its massive plates of cast iron, securing bolts and spewing tongues of flame harkened to a time when home heating plants and battleships claimed a common lineage.
My world was then of blackness. The low machine-rumble of pumps replaced civil conversation. I did not breathe air but drank think fumes of oil. A sudden eruption of flame would peel the cot from darkness to reveal my arms crossed tight upon my chest
I don’t know for how long I lay in state, for two days or two weeks. There was no sun to chart, no natural rhythm of body to inform, no mind to think.
The heavy metal fire door scraped open and a black figure appeared at the opening to the furnace room. Disturbed, I sat up in my cot, stiff from the waist, like a vampire rising from its coffin, released at last from the crypt. My gaunt and drawn, pallid-white visage, wild hair and vacant stare were caught full in the tight circle of a flashlight. The meter reader had, unawares, fallen into my hell. He nearly died outright from freight of the living image of torment that greeted him in this dungeon. “I didn’t know anybody was here!” he croaked. With both hands he slammed the door and I could hear his boot heals clicking away, like a mad centipede, as he sought the light.
I sat there in the dark. The absurdity of the scene slowly trickled into my veins like an elixir. I imagined the meter guy peeling out the door heading for the safety of his truck, and the “You won’t guess what happened to me today” that he would greet his wife with that evening. It was all pretty hysterical, the look on his face and how I must appear. My desperation slowly leaked away in laughter. I plodded upstairs for a shower with a will to re-join the living.
I took up my rightful place by my wife’s side, our little one soon out-grew the discomfort of baby ills and gentle sleep thereafter found me easily and left me refreshed.
And the meter-guy? I wonder how he sleeps now.