I lay awake wondering what I looked like when I fell asleep

For years after my parents stopped tucking me in, my mom or my dad continued to look in on me after my lights were out. I think a lot of parents do that, take that moment to make sure all is safe and sound, that their child isn’t staying up too late to read under the covers, to say a silent goodnight, to see peacefulness on a sleeping face.

I got caught reading under the covers. I was also known to sit up until all hours, unable to put down a crafty project, trying on all my dress-up clothes, or sifting reverently through shoe boxes of toys and trinkets, taking inventory of treasures the way children do.

While I played in the dim light from my closet, I listened for a parent’s footsteps. I learned the warning groan of the floorboards a few steps shy of my bedroom door, and I learned to leap into bed and feign sleep with minimal mattress creaking. Oh I got caught, but sometimes I fooled the watchdogs.

And yet, there were nights when I took comfort in knowing that I’d have company for just a moment in the night. As I got even older, I would remind my mom to “come check on me” every now then. When something upset me and I felt vulnerable, I wanted someone else to stand watch. I guess I’d be the type of cowgirl to sleep with one eye open unless I could count on someone else to look out for trouble on the prairie.

There were nights when I couldn’t fall asleep anyway. My mom would crack open the door and I would say, “Mom,” because I’d been expecting her but she wouldn’t expect to find me lying awake in the dark.

“Why are you still up?” she’d ask.

“I don’t know. I can’t sleep.” She would tuck the covers tighter or press both thumbs in circles against my forehead or kiss my cheek right up next to my ear and tell me goodnight again, hoping it would take. I remember one night when I called out to her before she closed the door again.

“I’m craving something. But I don’t know what.” Her silhouette braced itself in the doorway and she sighed. “I think it might be coffee.” I was maybe nine. Maybe ten. I don’t remember what she said; I don’t even know what I would say to a child who told me she was having indefinable cravings in the middle of the night.

I’d probably tell her, “Nice try, but you’ve had your last glass of water, your last bedtime story, and your last goodnight kiss. Go. To. Sleep.”

But I maintain to this day that I wasn’t just stalling that night. I really craved something—something—whatever it was.

I felt what New Yorker writer Judith Thurman expressed when she wrote, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for a familiar ground.” Or Frank O’Hara, who wrote, “When do you want to go / I’m not sure I want to go there / where do you want to go / any place / I think I’d fall apart any place else” in ‘Metaphysical Poem.’

I was maybe nine. Maybe ten.  My first restless night of metaphysical angst.