Sleep Deprivation and the Vulnerable Little Monkey

I have very complicated reasons for not sleeping.

It is not simple insomnia, where a pill will help me unravel the days stresses and get my 8 hours of not only sleep, but deep unencumbered sleep. No, it’s not that simple. It started at a young age and matured along with me.

I have struggled with terrifying dreams, night terrors, and sometimes sleep paralysis that started at such an early age that I do not  remember ever not being afraid to sleep.

On the positive side, life itself is terrifying and in my case sometimes horrifying, but compared to my internal dream-scapes, life is, and was, better.

My night terrors made me stronger and fearless while awake, whilst giving me angst, terrified to give up on the day come bedtime.

My earliest good memory is playing with my great Aunt Jenny and Uncle Pat. The number one game we played was me running as fast as I could to then leap in the air and land on my aunt’s enormous belly, while she waited with open arms in her rocking chair to receive me. My second favorite game was swinging on my great uncle’s extended cane, parallel to the ground, while he proudly laughed and exclaimed that I was his little monkey. This led to my intense desire to be a gymnast, and a monkey, which was how I saw myself when I made people laugh.

The memory I want to share today starts in Troy, N.Y. at 22 months old, sitting on my great Aunt Jenny’s enormous lap, in new, horribly unflattering, glasses strapped to my head, crooked.

On this day, my mom and great-aunt broke the news that I needed surgery because I was blind in one eye and that isn’t normal. But the doctors will fix it. This event made my family (not just my aunt and uncle) kind,sympathetic, and loving, towards me.

I especially loved the stuffed rabbit that my brother Brian gave me while I lay in my hospital bed, pre-surgery. I also got one of those magnetic styling toys that allow you to move the metal shards inside a plastic picture, mine of a man’s head, with a magnetic style pencil, an etch-e-sketch and a plastic maze.

Thinking back on this now, the ensuing surgery, return-to-home and recovery aside, I believe I remember this event at such an early age not because it was tramatizing and awful, but because of how wonderful I felt that night in the hospital when my family seemed to love me, even if this awful event is what brought them to finally show it.

I remember thinking that.

The night before surgery, in the hospital, I couldn’t sleep. I felt, and still do often now, that the moment I gave in to sleep the sooner the morning, and all the fear that comes with that, will arrive.

I overheard a doctor and my mom talking about how I will wake after surgery, not being able to see. When I later asked about that, my mom wouldn’t say. Just that she’s my mom and she won’t let anything bad happen to me. My mother slept like a bear loudly snoring that night, and I wondered how exactly she was going to protect me.

Big words, mama bear.

I woke her a few times, but with no real satisfaction, just assurances. And that it’s ok if I can’t sleep, I will get plenty of sleep when they put me to sleep in the morning…wait, what?

Yup that’s what she said.

So I stayed up until I was dreaming I was still up until the line between real and dream cross, and I woke up blind. I could not see. Just brown purple filtered light of emptiness and I woke up from that screaming when they were wheeling me to the surgery room. But I was awake and could see!

The nurse immediately put a mask on my mouth and then I was having that dream again and I was blind.

Just brown purple filtered light of emptiness.

My mother, notably groggy and annoyed, for she lacked sleep, too, I suppose, hushed me and promised me it was because there were patches on my eyes and that I had to keep my eyes still. She warned me not to move my eyes or I will damage what the doctors did and they will have to do surgery again. She said if I can do that, I will see just fine.

After that I just remember throwing up a lot and getting shots in my bare bottom, and needles in my arms. I remember the attention I got on the way in was not met with the same kindness when I got out of the hospital. My parents owned a restaurant and were just too busy to come and stay with me the second night nor to take me home in the morning, so my mom’s sister’s daughter picked me up from the hospital. I had a terrible headache, dry heaves, and was very hot while she and her girlfriend chatted up in the front seat.

I, blind with patches on both eyes, and unsecured in the back, hung out the window, retching and gasping for fresh air.

My mom’s sister lived upstairs in the apartment above my great-Aunt Jenny and Uncle Pat’s apartment, but my parents would not leave me with them because they were too old to take care of me. So they gave me up to two teenagers that picked me up and we drove in downtown Troy, New York, in traffic, and the smells were nauseating.

Once we arrived and parked and they smoked their last cigarettes, we had to ascend the stairs to the second floor. I could barely walk and I gathered my strength so they wouldn’t drag me on the sidewalk in my pajamas. I was blind but they were so busy talking, and ignored any interruption I made. They ran up the stairs, and I remember trying to keep up, but fell behind and someone’s heel clocked me in the face and I tumbled down the steps.

I remember seeing bright yellow stars, just like in the cartoons depicting horrible treatment of  While E. and Daffy.

I was bruised, sick, and blind but my cousin had never been nicer than she was after that occurrence.

But they sure laughed at me a lot.

I was helpless without sight and on morphine and quite fun to make fun of. I wasn’t laughing, and without a real and kind adult around I felt like I was in danger..

I would drift off in the days convalescing at my mom’s sister’s apartment and wake to sudden terrifying dreams of falling face first from a ledge or having nails pounded into my eyes. These dreams were made more terrifying by the bright yellow stars of pain infliction and my cousin waving goodbye as I succumbed to whatever my mind could come up with…

I couldn’t wait, and I hoped I would live long enough to get better, to go back to hanging with my Aunt Jenny and Uncle Pat.

I was, and am now, a blind, vulnerable, little monkey without them.

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