In The Angel of History, Carolyn Forché writes: “While sleeping, the child vanishes from his life.” I’d like to think this is true for Holden, but it seems like the opposite. Sleep vanishes his life. Because the interictal spikes during sleep disrupt his short-to-long term memory processing, sleep can erase the day. The sight words he’s been working on for four years disintegrate into chalk dust on the bottom ledge of his brain. And then, out of the blue, as we walk into the grocery store, he’ll say something like, “There’s Sady. That dog looks like Sady,” pointing to a dog that looks like his grandparents’ dog. I’ll say, “Yes! You’re right. Good job. It looks like Sady, but it’s not.” And he’ll say, “because Sady is schnauzer.” How did he suddenly summon that word, schnauzer? He wasn’t confident about it—the word was muffled, blurred a bit—but it stunned me. I remind myself: sometimes words appear for him like dreams appear during waking life—a fragment, a smear of scene, and that recalls a context.
So what happens to him during sleep? His sleep lacks depth and quality, certainly, which I can tell when he mumbles and tosses-and-turns (thanks, video monitor) or when he sleeps for seven hours (a couple less than his 9-10) and wakes up at 4 a.m. ready for the day. By the time I get downstairs, he’s put together a puzzle and gotten five books of the shelf to “read.” This is much better than insomnia nights where he’s up at 1:30 or 2:00 am for the rest of the day. Even if I can get him back to bed (often a difficult task) he won’t get back to sleep, but entertains himself in bed with bits of song and movie dialogue he’s memorized.
During some of the toughest moments of my waking life, my dreamlife has helped keep me balanced. While working on my graduate coursework—cerebral, inactive work—I dreamed I was an international spy who dressed up in awesome clothes and kicked ass regularly (a la Sydney Bristow in ALIAS). What happens to Holden’s dreams? Do they wake him up? Is dreaming so much work that he would, on a subconscious level, rather not do it? Because how can an eight-year-old swallow so much sleep medication and still wake up a few hours later bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? He’ll chatter about his video game “Look! There’s angry birds. There’s the red bird. And the b-bomb bird!” then yawn a deep and powerful yawn. But not go back to sleep.
So usually, on these days, I don’t go back to sleep, either. Some nights, when Holden wakes up earlier and Brian is working late into the night, he’ll get him back to sleep (easier to do when Holden was up at midnight or 1:00am). But when it’s 4:00 or 5:00a.m., I’m up for the day, too. And sometimes I can be productive (like writing this blog entry) or sometimes I doze next to Holden on the couch. I hope someday sleep can be as restorative for Holden as much as it is for me.