An essay by Dominique Pariso
A brief list of things to be found in this particular house: three bedrooms, two and a half baths, five children (two principle, three picked up along the way), three mattresses, a pissedstained rug, whipped cream, and one small dog responsible for most of the pissing. Gather together the murmurs, the creaks, the memory and hold it together with silver thread.
Has anyone ever managed to describe the moment right before we fall asleep with any accuracy? Poe wrote on the “fancies” he experienced on this brink “with consciousness that I am so.” Oliver Twist contains elaborate page-long descriptions of this state (but hey, Dickens was paid by the word). I can’t quite find the words, so I rely on comparisons to a drowsy car ride or childhood. A sense of sliding through from one place to another, arriving, blinking dumbly, not quite sure as to how you made it here from there.
See also: daydreaming, lucid-dreaming, sleep paralysis, and sleepwalking. Sleep paralysis is what happens when your brain and mind decide to stop speaking to each other. In other words: a disconnect. On the other hand, sleepwalking is what happens when your dreaming mind and your legs are whispering in each others’ ears, mischievous, collaborating. Daydreaming and lucid-dreaming are inversions of each other, but both take up the right space in wrong ways.
So I can take it that sleeping is more a bleeding edge than a border zone.
I am lying on the bed, not sleeping, too hot to wear anything but underwear, not unlike a beached whale. I too long to be underwater right now. You very carefully pluck the ingrown hairs around my bikini line with a pair of tweezers. Later, I’ll squeeze the zits on your back, just as careful. This is not voyeuristic. This is not even intimate. I have a right to be here because I bore witness to its becoming, same as you to me. We groomed and preened, side by side. There is a striking resemblance, we could be mistaken for sisters. Laying on my back, I count the birds I stuck to the wall, there are nineteen in all, sitting on a line, adhesive backed. What if one unstuck itself and circled the fan?
There is a type of cuckoo bird, cousin to the roadrunner, that carefully plants their eggs in the nests of other species. They do this by tossing one of the broods real eggs out, and slipping their own in unnoticed. A changeling. But the cuckoo chick can never get enough food from their host family. It pines, outgrows the nest that’s not big enough to sustain it.
A wet towel yet again lies innocently on the carpet which I’ve told you a million times not to do.
I feel my breath gently raise my curves and my hills on the bed. You are taut skin stretched over hallow bones, woodland creatures could sip water out of your collarbone.
Whoever designed our family had a real eye for balance.
Three a.m.: you sit, cross-legged, gleefully picking fights on the Internet, delicately eating from an industrial size bag of Doritos and sipping on ice water.
Two years ago I gave impassioned sermons on the virtues of safe sex. You are now 14, and tell me what it feels like to impale yourself on a boy, not impassioned at all; I am 17, hymen still intact. This fact makes you vaguely pleased. There are somehow no barriers here, no borders to separate us. Our words travel freely across the bed, like little paper boats in a gentle current. I pick one up, unfold it, and read the shorthand clearly written upon it. You treat sex like it’s a dare. Like its something to do to pass the time. I do not worry though; you are far too fast to get crushed by anything as common as a boy-sized anvil.
Beware of motherless chicks: they will eat you alive.
In this no man’s land, there are also ghosts. But that was the thing about M., (the you previously mentioned) she was a very different creature. When she found her ghosts outside our house in a brown box marked FREE she gave each a name, so she could never give them away. She spoon fed them cream, watched them grow, and wrapped herself in them to keep warm. They sleep nestled under her eyelids and hang on that little drop of skin at the back of her throat.
But I guess I’m not all that better, am I? I stuck out my tongue, placed it in the center like a host, and felt mine begin to dissolve like a sugar cube. Rolled it around in my mouth like a marble, or maybe a piece of hard candy, and then swallowed it whole.
As it turns out it is very possible to consume sadness.
And there are all different kinds—lemon bar sadness, jam and mayonnaise sadness, wilted lettuce sadness. And there’s a sadness in letting all of that slide down your throat so the original sadness has friends and can feel full for a little while.
There is a way to be a body paleontologist: keep digging until you hit old bones. When the first rib emerges, pluck it out, plant it in fertile soil, it will be the seed you need to grow your new outline.
Later, we are asleep in the bed that M. and I share. She flings her leg over my body, hits me in the face with her arm. We engage in a silent tug of war over the sheet. She mumbles something. I lean closer. These are sounds coming up from the bottom of the ocean floor.
Down the hall, I hear my brother thrashing against sheets that are moonlighting (for one night only!) as a roiling sea, calling out from down the hall. He is stuck, once more, in the inbetween.
We are all being evicted from childhood, forced to inhabit bodies we have not yet grown into. So if there is a disconnect between the body and the interior, is sleep the bridge? Or is it more of a gap?
I read the concave indent you’ve made on the bed like it’s a code only I can decipher.
Here are three, short, true stories:
1. When he was ten I caught my brother in a valiant attempt to climb into the toilet proclaiming “I AM TOILETMAN”, a subterranean superhero of the septic tank. I’m not sure exactly what he thought he’d find. Mutant turtles? The center of the Earth? His kingdom?
2. I once had a dream that I was running away from home, I woke up halfway across the yard, pajama legs dew soaked, my bid for freedom stopped short by a waking brain.
3. I am pinned down, there is a shadowy man standing over me. I open my mouth to scream but I can’t. Try to at least turn my head, but I can’t. I lie there in wait.
A bird flew into the window, there was a flurry, a sickening thud! then nothing. It thought it saw an opening where there wasn’t one. That thud where flight became weightfulness, the space in between a heartbeat. M. and I leaned out the window slowly, Saturday cartoon slow, somber.
We wrapped it in a towel, then put it in a box, then placed that box on the fire pit. A funeral pyre felt more appropriate than a burial. I lit the flame because I’m the oldest. Heads bowed, we chanted goodbyes over wood crackling, I peered up and saw their faces through a smoke screen.
What I mean to say is this: back then we were still trying to build our shape, this shape would be the one our fluid selves would figure out how to fill, with things we picked up along the way from point A to point B. And we built it with twigs and with spit.
Dominique Pariso studies English Literature at Brown University and is a Features Editor for the College Hill Independent.