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  • When I was little and couldn’t sleep, I’d run into my parents’ room. One or the other would lift me up into their bed and make room. They’d tell me, “you don’t have to go to sleep. Just rest your eyes.” Resting my eyes seemed safer: I’d be awake enough to not miss anything, and awake enough to find my way out of a nightmare.

    When I figured out that “old” means “closer to death,” my sleeplessness would lead me to wander through the house as everyone else slept. I’d make my way to where my great-grandparents shared a room. I’d lie down on the floor between their twin beds and listen to their breathing, convinced that death couldn’t take them as long as I was there.

    As I got older, someone gave me a set of worry dolls from Guatemala. Dressed in colorful miniature long skirts and miniature vests, they came in a basket that fit inside the palm of my hand. I named each one and stuck them under my pillow so they could carry the weight of my childhood concern and I could rest.

    In my twenties, I figured out that rubbing my feet together could calm me enough to drift off. But I became arrogant and judgmental of my father’s insomnia. "What could you possibly have weighing on your conscious that keeps you awake at night?"

    When I learned that “baby” means “fragile,” I spent many nights watching my newborns sleep, listening to their breathing, convinced that death couldn’t take them as long as I was there. I wondered too what they dreamed about and what their nightmares could possibly be made of.

    Following close behind was marriage and an uncertain job market that brought three moves in four years, a new job that brought long hours, a mortgage (perhaps the greatest of all sleepkillers). The old tricks no longer worked. I’d grown up and now had grownup worries that kept me working through puzzles late into the night. And when I did sleep, I found myself problem-solving in my dreams. Making love is sometimes a helpful way to become tired. As is an extra glass of wine. But when I have the fortitude to surrender, I gather all my worry together in a small campfire and then with a mezzo-soprano “hmp” –as if to say, “Whadya know about that?”—I blow it out like a birthday candle and everything goes dark.
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