“That’s good luck,” is what people who never get pooped on by birds will tell you about getting pooped on by birds. I will not tell you this, as I get pooped on by birds more frequently than anyone I know and more frequently than anyone anyone I know knows.
In fiscal terms, I’d say I get pooped on by a bird once quarterly. Why are we using fiscal terms? I don’t know. Maybe because getting pooped on by a bird, for me, is as certain as death and taxes? Actually, I don’t earn enough to pay taxes*, so getting pooped on by a bird is even more of a certainty, for me, than the most cliched certainty. We also don’t know that I won’t live forever. Who’s to say?
It is only natural that I question whether it’s something about me specifically that beckons bird droppings. It’s hard not to take it personally when you are standing on a crowded city street or beach and are the only victim of a flying rat’s digestive failings. Perhaps it’s the color of my hair? In Spain, it’s “chestnut” colored; in Chile, “blonde;” perhaps, on a global scale, “bird toilet,” or “poop magnet.” Whispers of “maybe she’s born with it…” follow me.
Perhaps it all comes down to location. Do I spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out under trees, a popular bird residence and/or gathering spot? Possibly yes, more than the average city dweller. I love taking long walks and sitting in parks and although I’m a huge fan of the sun, I also fear it due to my fair skin and family medical history. I spend most of my time outdoors skulking in the shade, a hot spot for bird poop activity. If absorbing a bit of bird shit is the price I must pay to avoid skin cancer, I’ll take that deal. One should not negotiate with terrorists (in this case, both birds and the sun).
Now, of all the terrible things that can happen on city streets, getting pooped on by a bird is not among them. There are far worse things, and it’s important to have some perspective. But city birds are especially gross. Birds out in the wild probably eat seeds, grains and berries. Maybe some worms and insects. Organic matter. But city birds eat garbage. They eat the shitty droppings of peoples’ shitty food. They eat shit and then shit shit. It is shitception. A vicious shitcycle. A shitstorm.
If I’m looking for silver linings, here is one: birds usually poop on my head, sparing my clothes, which is convenient because I shower daily but don’t do laundry quite as often as I should. I should also be thankful that the bird poop I get is from real, live birds. Hear me out: In some big European cities, some teams of thieves are dropping fake bird poop on people to distract them while someone steals their wallet. In this way, I am lucky.
Speaking of luck: Getting pooped on by a bird, or having anything you own get pooped on by a bird (which is an excessively generous caveat in my opinion), is thought by many to bring good luck. I generally write this off as a consolation — a nice thing for your friends to tell you after they’re finished laughing at you for getting shat on. I don’t feel particularly lucky, but perhaps I should use all of these shitty moments to take stock of all the ways I am in fact very fortunate.
While searching The Internette for answers as to why incontinent birds gravitate towards me, what I found troubled me. Somebody on Quora (It wasn’t me, that I can recall) asked “Do birds sometimes intentionally poop on people? Do they aim their poops at targets?” The answer, in summary, was yes, some birds do, but probably not pigeons. As a city dweller, this should be reassuring. Most city dwellers of the ave variety are pigeons. According to this logic, then, the odds of getting intentionally pooped on by a bird in a city are quite low.
The last time I got pooped on by a bird was in Santiago de Chile, on my lunch hour. I didn’t see the culprit but earlier that day I had seen a falcon outside the window of my office with a glint of malice in his eye. After work, I came home, went to the shower, opened the tap. A few drops sputtered out, then some brown goo, then nothing. My building’s water had been turned off. That, my friends, is not good luck.
*I still declare taxes. Nothing to see here. Also since the time of writing I got a raise and now actually owe taxes yay.
Almost everyone I’ve ever dated has said something along the lines of “I thought about getting you flowers but they just die so I didn’t.” What a bold thing for a mere mortal to say! You, human, are going to die one day too; should I not bother loving you?
I happen to like flowers and they will die and so will I but at least they’ll have spent some time brightening up my living room and at least I’ll have spent some time admiring nature’s handiwork.
Anyway, happy Valentine’s Day! Believe in love and gifting flowers!
Seba held his phone up to me and pressed record: “I, Elyssa, will write 6 essays, at least, this year, 2018, for a book—for my book—to be completed in 2019.” He sent me the recording.
That’s that, then. As close to a New Year’s resolution as I’m making this year. Plus, to write more here.
Seba is a friend I made during my first stint in Chile almost five years ago, and I’m so happy to have stayed in touch with him. Seba is a musician, a composer. He makes music out of thin air. He’s always working on five projects at once and is never frazzled, always—excuse my pun—composed. One of his goals has always been to compose a film score by the time he turns 30. He’s 29 and finishing up the score for a documentary. His next goal is to earn an Oscar for one of his compositions by the time he’s 35. Maybe he’ll invite me as his +1.
It’s good to have friends like these, who inspire you with their unbothered doing of the things they love, with their uncomplicated pursuit of their goals. I have no doubt that Seba goes through tricky moments—times of block and frustration—as every artist must, but he never waivers. These are the people I admire: The ones who do. The ones with conviction. The ones who completely reject self-doubt, or at least refuse to let it stand in their way. I am generally not like this. At least when it comes to writing. When it comes to writing, I agonize, overthink, and second-guess.
Of course, these people—people in general—are not valuable for what they produce. That’s a dangerous way to measure worth. It’s their attitude, their outlook, their relentless encouragement of me and my own goals, too, that makes them such powerful role models and valuable friends.
For months, I’ve been talking about going rock climbing. There’s a gym I’ve passed by a few times on my way home from a night out and I always make a mental note. I actually emailed, Facebook messaged, and called them. I inquired about classes and was informed that I needed to first take a one-day certification course before I could enroll in a regular class. The certification course was given only on Saturdays and only to a minimum of two people. I am one person.
I asked around to see if a few different friends were interested—only the friends I’d be comfortable looking like a complete ass in front of. I got some vague interest and a few “I would love to, but I’m busy these days. How about in a few months?” or “yes, I’d love to!” followed by that person dropping off the face of the planet and resurfacing with “omg what ever happened with this?!” What happened was we did not climb fake rocks in a gym.
I took to a Facebook group of Santiago expat girls to ask if anyone would be interested in coming with me. I got a few responses and then *I* fell off the face of the earth, distracting myself instead with long walks and evening drinks with friends and things that are fun but not new. But I still wanted to climb fake rocks in a gym!
I told another friend, Antonia, about my new interest and she responded excitedly that her cousin runs a rock climbing gym. Perfect! But it’s outside the city. “Oh, that sounds far.” And there are no harnesses, just a big mat on the floor. “Oh, that sounds dangerous.” So I did not climb fake rocks in a gym.
Weeks passed and one night I came home to find my roommate buzzing with adrenaline, excitement, happiness. “I just did the best thing. Fernanda (our other, new roommate) just took me to a rock climbing gym.” “Casa Boulder?!” “Yes!” “I’ve been wanting to go!” “It was amazing. Everyone was so encouraging and helpful and cheering me on even though I was new.” His enthusiasm mixed with my FOMO—jealousy that he had just spontaneously done something that I’d been pondering for months— plus the fact that I was out of excuses (“there’s a childrens wall!” he retorted when I mentioned my weak upper body) prompted me to ask Seba, with whom I’d made plans to hang out on Saturday, if he might be interested in climbing fake rocks in a gym. He was up for anything.
First, we met for lunch and Seba asked, as he tends to do, how my writing is going: “When’s the last time you’ve written in your blog?” “October 2015.” Suddenly I was looking at Edvard Munch’s The Scream. “Just write, dammit!” he said (sort of. Convos translated from Spanish. “Dammit” added for dramatic effect.), “Write about the things that you do. Write about this lunch. Write about this day.” I couldn’t think of a thing to say that might be interesting. I had the chicken. It was overcooked.
The problem is often not that I don’t have things to write about but that I’m afraid of sharing them in real time–I need distance. The problem is my hesitance to involve other people in my writings, people who may not want to be part of a story. It’s the fear of influencing things with my writing about them. The fear of *not* influencing things with my writing about them. The problem is the very real fear that what I write is not interesting or good or worth reading. This is why I don’t write when I don’t write.
If only the Help button could cure the hangups that cause me to keep 85 unsaved documents open on my computer at a time.
After lunch, Seba and I took a long walk under the beating sun. We were heading in the direction of the rock climbing gym, but it was still up in the air whether or not we were going. I wouldn’t believe we were going ’til we got there.
We got there. It was so easy! As it turns out, no certification classes are necessary if you just want to buy a day pass and climb at your own risk (apparently harnesses are only for children at Boomers or Kabooms–all arcades featuring the word “boom,” generally.). Spontaneity is rewarded. The receptionist explained to us that the different color ribbons on each of the rocks stood for different levels of difficulty and that was that. All that was left to do was climb fake rocks in a gym, so we did.
I have no upper body strength. Like, only the amount necessary to type on a keyboard, open a door and the occasional jar of peanut butter. I started on the easiest (not-designated-especially-for-children) wall, with the easiest level and after a couple of attempts, I reached the top! Easy as pie. That’s done. Nothin’ to see here. Moving on. I tried the next level on the same wall and couldn’t quite make it to the top, so I moved on to the next, more difficult wall and tried the first level there. Yep, no. Not going to happen. That one involved getting to the top of the wall and then pulling yourself over an angled ledge and climbing more. Once I made it to the top of the wall, I was not only incapable of pulling myself up over the ledge, but also panicked that I wouldn’t have the strength to climb down, so I aborted mission. I went back and did the green route on the first wall a couple more times, picking up speed each time. I eventually completed the second level on that same wall.
My neck hurt and my arms were weak and I took a seat to take it all in. People around me whizzed along the walls like sweaty, chalk-covered monkeys, traversing enormous protruding boulders, their backs nearly parallel to the ground. Their strength amazed me. It looked so easy for them. After I watched one guy climb effortlessly across every single wall in the gym, I asked him, “Out of curiosity, how long have you been doing this?” “Five years. And you?” I checked the non-existent watch on my wrist, “About an hour. I’ve only done the green route on the first wall.” “We all start out the same.”
Let’s not overcomplicate things. January is generally considered by upholders of the Gregorian calendar to be the start of a new year. So I’m going to take this opportunity—this moment in time in which so many of us arbitrarily decide we have a clean slate and renewed motivation and clarified goals—to start doing some more writing. Publicly and officially. Of course I write for work (yay! My job now is to write! How neat is that!) and I write daily for myself, typically in amorphous, unfinished notes on my phone, but I keep postponing this endeavor, saving my stories, almost as if I’m afraid I won’t live others. And, so far, luckily, I’ve always lived others.
Later, as Seba and I strained our arms against pints of beer rather than fake rocks in a gym, he made me record my commitment to writing more this year. I realized most people will not make your project their project. That’s okay. It’s hard enough to do your own thing without holding your friends accountable for theirs. So when you do find those people who constantly “bother” you by checking in, appreciate them, and try to do the same for them.
So, here’s to a new year, a you who is the same but different. Here’s to surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. Here’s to thinking and worrying and scheming a bit less. Here’s to doing the things we’ve been putting off—be it because we weren’t ready, or because we weren’t sure, or because we were busy doing other things. This may hurt. It may start out slow or rough. You will probably be bad at it, at least at the beginning. But if you put as much time and effort into doing those new things as you typically reserve for avoiding them, you will eventually succeed. Excuses are so last year.
San Francisco is the first place I ever really traveled to. Born and raised in south Florida, I’d grown up with one foot in Maryland since my parents’ families lived there, but a road trip down Pacific Coast Highway with my family when I was 11 was my first venture into the unknown. Landing in San Francisco, with 3000 miles and a 3-hour time difference between me and home, I’d never felt so far away.
A few years after that first trip to San Francisco, I revisited. San Francisco marked the halfway point in a 7-week summer excursion I made with a busload of fellow teenagers. It was the longest time I’d ever been away from home and after two solid weeks of crying on the phone to my parents, begging them to let me come home, they agreed to book me a ticket back to Florida if I stuck it out ‘til San Francisco.
By the time I made it to San Francisco, I no longer wanted to go home. My homesickness had vanished and I began to realize just how cool other parts of the world are. San Francisco was the place where I chose to stay on the road. The spell of being a homebody had broken, and I was free. I became a traveler, a person who could make a home out of anyplace.
Ten years, countless trips, and a couple of long-term stints living abroad later, San Francisco no longer feels like the furthest place from home.
Often hailed as the most European city in the United States, San Francisco is really something special. It’s unmistakably a city—bursting with culture in a way I’d never seen, rife with renowned theaters and operas and ballets, creative and unique gastronomy, fine shopping, beautiful Victorian architecture (a prized feature in this relatively young country. To take advantage of this, I recommend staying at Hotel Beresford), and historical sites—but it’s got something else: fresh air and a punchy personality. It’s not your run-of-the-mill city, but several vibrant neighborhoods, each one accepting but completely self-aware, holding tightly to its own personality. From the hipsters to the Bohemians to the techies to the businessmen to the expatriates to the yuppies, there’s a place for everyone in San Francisco. Even a homesick fourteen year old.
San Francisco eased me into life as a traveler. I did the touristy things—I drove down Lombard street, slurped ice cream at the original Ghirardelli, ate seafood around Fisherman’s Wharf, rode a ferry to Alcatraz, marveled at the Painted Ladies while pretending I was a member of the Tanner family, bought a tiny Buddha statue at a store in the country’s oldest Chinatown, stood agape at the Golden Gate Bridge. I had some location-nonspecific life experiences, like receiving my first-ever gift from a boy: a lanyard bracelet with my name misspelled (He bought it, didn’t make it, and knew the spelling was wrong, but thought it was funny. I laughed and told him we should just be friends). And I did the travely things: I tried to soak up as much of a place as possible in a short amount of time—the feel of San Francisco’s hilly streets, of its inhabitants, of the lifestyle.
But try as one might, it’s not possible to experience all of San Francisco in a short amount of time. It’s too varied, too dynamic, too quirky to get to know in just a few days every few years. But that makes your trips here all the better. Even with a million more things left to see at the end of each stay, you’ll feel you were somehow changed.
So go and do the touristy things, and reach your own milestone, and soak it in and let yourself be changed by it. And then go back. Because, while I didn’t leave my heart there, San Francisco was undoubtedly the impetus for a sudden change of it. San Francisco marked the beginning of a new kind of life for me and, if you let it, it could for you too.
It’s no secret that in my most recent writings, my feelings toward Spain have been lukewarm at best, disheartened at worst. My year and a half back living in Madrid has been a period of near-constant drama and transition, leaving many friends and family back in the States—and often me, too– to wonder what the heck I’m still doing here and why I don’t just go home. But as the temperature warms and I find myself coming out of the fog of a gloomy, anxiety-ridden winter, I find my feelings toward Madrid warming as well. Or re-warming. Re-heating? Like a microwave heating up last night’s tortilla. But the truth is, cold or hot, Madrid—much like tortilla—is, in my heart, great always.
Some of you already know the story. When I left my study abroad semester in Madrid four years ago, I was in love. I had fallen completely head over heels for the city–its beautiful streets, the charming and innumerable bars and cafes, the lifestyle and culture, the language, the tapas — and how it made me feel, and the idea of coming back never left my mind. So I got myself back here.
But when I moved back to Madrid, things were rougher. Instead of seeing Madrid through the rosy-glasses of nostalgia and the intense and compact infatuation that comes with a 6-month study abroad program, I found myself having to make a life here, having to bring all the difficult parts of a life in transition–adjusting to a new job, co-existing with new people, managing a long-distance relationship– into my idyllic Madrid bubble. I could no longer see Madrid as perfect. As I struggled to adjust to “real life” in Madrid, I came to know the city’s many flaws, and for a while I was a bit disillusioned with it. I didn’t feel the same gusto for Madrid I once had. My tough year changed my view of the city, and while I couldn’t blame Madrid for all the bad things that were happening last year, they felt inherently tied into my life here.
So when my yearlong teaching contract ended last June, I was torn about whether or not to renew it for another year. Even when I left at the end of June to go back to Florida for the summer, I wasn’t sure if I’d be returning to Madrid in the fall. My first year back in Madrid had treated me so badly. Would returning to a place that was the setting of possibly the worst year of my life up ‘til now make me an optimist—returning with hope and blind faith that my next year would be better–or a masochist—jumping back into the ring to have life abroad beat me up all over again?
But it wasn’t the city, or even the fact that I was living abroad, that had made my year so difficult. It was some bad roommates and dishonest landlords, some tough decisions, a less-than-satisfying job, a long-distance romance and, more recently, a devastating breakup. It was anxiety and, quite possibly, a bout of depression. It wasn’t the city itself but new challenges and unfamiliar scenarios and my ability or inability to adapt to or cope with them. So packing up my things and leaving a city I loved really wasn’t going to fix any of that, and possibly could have made things worse. I realized bad people are everywhere. Tough decisions, I’ve regrettably found, come up all the time no matter what your life looks like or where it’s set. I wasn’t ready to make sacrifices for someone I loved. And I didn’t have any prospect of a job as stable as my Madrid teaching job anywhere else in the world, and I definitely wanted to continue living abroad. I felt like I owed it to myself and Madrid to give us a chance to patch things up, so I came back. And I’m really, really glad I did.
My relationship with Madrid has morphed during my second chapter here. I used to put Madrid on a pedestal and now I know it intimately. I was frustrated with it for being the source of my problems, and saw it as the antagonist to myself, the victim, and now I see it wasn’t at fault. Madrid and I now have a more stable, more real relationship. I love it constantly yet there are still moments I’d like to punch it in its beautiful face.
And while I know it’s flawed in many ways, no city is perfect. But of all the imperfect cities I’ve visited and lived in, Madrid is my favorite—the love of my life, geographically speaking. Yes, I’m in love with Madrid. Steadily if not passionately; unconditionally if not perfectly; truly madly deeply in love with the city of Madrid.
I’m drawn to Madrid like a moth to a flame and for now–de momento–it’s home.
It’s weird to be tucked in after the age of…10? I don’t know. I forget my childhood. The point is, we can all agree that there is an appropriate age for being tucked in and we are all currently above it. But imagine being the age you are now and being tucked in. Now, imagine being tucked in by a complete stranger. Now, imagine being tucked in by a complete stranger who is about to keep an eye on your body’s every physiological occurrence from the next room. Shit gets weird
On Tuesday, I was tucked in by a complete stranger who then left me to go keep an eye on my body’s every physiological occurrence from the next room. But he didn’t just tuck me in: First, he glued sensors to the top of my head, stuck more sensors around my face and down my legs, strapped something across my chest and something else around my waist, put a band around my wrist and then a pulse sensor on my middle finger, then taped another sensor under my nose across my cheeks, and another on my neck. And then he just abandoned me. This was not some kinky foray into a medical fetish. It was a sleep study.
For the past year and a half, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Wow, a year and a half?! Time flies when you’re slowly dying. I’ve walked around feeling extraordinarily exhausted almost every day, no matter how much shut-eye I’ve gotten the night before. This is, apparently, not normal. So this summer, when I was home in Florida, I saw my doctor about it. I told him my symptoms and he offered up a number of possible diagnoses, including iron deficiency, Vitamin D deficiency, and sleep apnea. I noted that I had, on occasion, woken up gasping for breath, though I wasn’t much of a snorer. He ordered some blood work done and prescribed a sleep study. The blood work was done but the sleep study was denied by my insurance due to the fact that I am a slender 24-year-old woman, not an overweight middle-aged man—the profile designated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida as the typical victim of sleep apnea. The blood work revealed I was Vitamin D deficient so we chalked my fatigue up to that and I started taking a daily supplement. But boy, if I wasn’t still tired.
I then went to the dentist. I’ve had TMJ since I had braces (Dear Dr. Babyak, this is your fault.) and I was seeing a new specialist to get a new mouth guard made (Yes, I wear a mouth guard to bed! Wanna date me?). Upon looking in my mouth as I lay in the exam chair he said, matter-of-factly, “You have an airway problem. You can’t breathe.” Pretty much. Often, when lying down especially, I feel as though I can’t breathe. I have a deviated septum (I have been on a tour of all the specialists in Madrid, including an ENT), and the top of my spine is curved in such a way that basically pushes the back of my throat forward, especially when laying down. Basically, I won the genetic lottery with anxiety as my bonus, which means that as I’m lying in bed trying to breathe like a normal human and having trouble doing so, I tend to get pretty worked up about it. The dentist asked if I sleep okay. I told him I didn’t and that my general physician thought I might have sleep apnea. “I wouldn’t be surprised.” But by this point, I was about to leave town and couldn’t get a sleep study done even if I’d paid for it myself.
When I got back to Spain, I wasted quite a bit of time before I finally decided in January to make an appointment with a sleep specialist. After consulting my Spanish insurance’s website, I found the Insituto de Investigaciones del Sueño SL, or the Institute of Sleep Investigations Ltd which I call the Institute of Dream Investigations because sueño is the Spanish word for both sleep and dream and the latter conjures up scenes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I love.
On the afternoon of my appointment, I sat in the waiting room answering a lengthy questionnaire with Google Translate on my phone at my side. My Spanish is pretty good, but medical terms are always a little out of left field. “Do you sometimes find yourself drifting off in the middle of a conversation?” No. “Do you normally remember having dreams during the night?” Almost never. “Do you often wake up after a full night’s sleep feeling tired?” Always. The list went on, with questions meant to rule out or diagnose night terrors, sleep walking, Restless Leg Syndrome, Narcolepsy, insomnia, sleep paralysis, etc.
After consulting with the sleep doctor, he ordered me three different kinds of sleep studies to take place in seven instances over the course of 20 hours at the Institute’s sleep clinic. The sleep tests were authorized by my insurance (which means they were FREE. Thank you MAPFRE. See this, BCBS?!) and after getting some busy weeks out of the way, I made an appointment for my sleep study.
So last Tuesday night, I rode the metro in my pajamas. I walked through a neighborhood of Madrid I’ve never walked through before and arrived at the sleep clinic at 9pm with a book and my journal in my backpack and my next day’s lunch in a shopping bag.
Beatrice, a technician, greeted me at the door of the clinic and while I was signing paperwork Diego, another technician, arrived with some takeout food for them. Beatrice led me to my bedroom and told me I could start getting ready for bed. Since I was already in my PJs, I took off my shoes and opened my journal, sitting down at the desk to write without wanting to get too involved in anything since I knew I’d be shortly interrupted. As I wrote, Diego poked his head in. “You can change into your PJs now. We’ll get started soon.”
“I am in my PJs. I always sleep like this.” I’m not sure why I added that last part. Was I trying to impress him? Look how cool and put together I am: I sleep in things that could be mistaken for street clothes.
Diego’s floating head disappeared and when he returned with the rest of his body, he was wheeling in a cart of things that were soon to be attached to me. He moved the desk chair to the middle of the room and instructed me to sit down. He stood behind me like a hairdresser and started gluing sensors to the top of my head and then blow-drying them on so the sensor was effectively cemented to my hair and scalp. After sticking more sensors on my face, he then told me to lie down on the bed. As he rolled up the legs of my fancy sleep leggings to put sensors on my shins, I noticed Diego was attractive and quickly tried to remember the last time I shaved my legs, since I couldn’t look now to assess the hairiness of the situation without being obvious. Luckily, I had completed my monthly winter leg-shaving the Friday before, so while I was prickly, I at least wasn’t hairy. I thought about how cool it must be for Diego to have me in his clinic, since he was probably used to really old people. I wondered if he’d ever considered stealing the personal information of a patient for personal use, say, to ask someone out. Maybe he would for me.
Diego hooked up all the cables that were now attached to me to a box on the bedside table and told me to not move my legs for an hour, and also try not to sleep. ‘Don’t move my legs for an hour?!’ Do you know how much that makes me want to move my legs, Diego?!
Diego left and I tried to think of anything other than my legs but nothing was coming up. I thought about a field of flowers because it seemed like the type of relaxing image that I hoped would absorb me into it, but it did not. After maybe 10 minutes, I started to feel my legs going tingly and numb. OH MY GOD, I thought, I have Restless Leg Syndrome!!! Maybe this is my problem! Maybe I have trouble sleeping because I have to constantly move and that wakes me up! I thought of all the time I spend trying to get comfortable before falling asleep, turning this way and that way, legs bent at the knee, legs straight out, one leg under the covers, the other out. I thought of all the times I awoke in the middle of the night as a kid with my legs asleep and dragged myself out of bed to jump up and down, eyes still shut, feeling nauseous with the tingling in my lower extremities. Now I was really anxious. I HAVE to move my legs. So I did. Slightly. I subtly stretched my calves and flexed my feet, not wanting to move the shin sensors too much but also realizing that the fact that I could not keep my legs fully still was valuable information for the sensors to, well, sense.
Throughout the hour, I heard more patients arrive and get set up—a welcome distraction from focusing on my legs. By the sound of their voices, the other patients were two near elderly men and one middle-aged to older woman. I was certainly the youngest patient by at least thirty years.
Diego came back to my room, signaling the end of that part of the study. He hooked up a bunch more cables and sensors to my body. As he strapped something across my chest, I noticed the wedding band on his right ring finger (where Spaniards wear it) and felt betrayed. Once he was done tethering my every nook and cranny to a machine, he said, “Now you can move. Though that seems like a lie, you really can.” I reflexively laughed in spite of our recent tiff. Diego always knew how to make me smile.
Always a gentleman, Diego held my bouquet of wires as I climbed under the covers and told me to call him if I needed anything, though he didn’t say how. Via the white box at my side? Did I have to press a button first? Via shouting your name through the door? Whatsapp? Then he shut out the lights and left me for my full-night sleep study. The room was the darkest I’d ever been in. Normal Me, a light sleeper, would have loved this, but Sleep Study Me put her wire-clad hand in front of her face to test if she could see it and when she couldn’t, started hyperventilating. It was then that I realized for certain a fear that had crossed my mind in the weeks leading up to the study: I wouldn’t sleep the night of my sleep study.
From lights out at 10:30pm to my wake up call at 6:30am I slept maybe 40 minutes total. I spent all night thinking an endless, loud barrage of thoughts, my anxiety waxing and waning along with my level of consciousness. There were moments when I felt I was about to fall asleep but then a nagging thought reminded me how crucial it was that I should, and it pulled me right out of my potential slumber. I thought about my ex-boyfriend and Diego. I tried to guess the time. I thought about work and worrying and every little thing. I felt just as I did when I was a kid and couldn’t fall asleep at night because of what I couldn’t then identify as anxiety. I used to fear that I’d suffocate in my sleep; that the moments before sleeping would be my last waking ones. How funny, it seemed to me, that I used to fear I’d suffocate in my sleep and I was now being examined to see if I was possibly suffocating in my sleep.
My nose was stuffed. I couldn’t breathe at all and couldn’t blow my nose without disturbing the under-nose sensor. Had I been able to sleep that night, they certainly would have seen some of my possible sleep apneic activity in action, but I knew they wouldn’t get a chance to witness that. I could hear the old man in the next room snoring and envied that his biggest problems were likely just that. And of course, I couldn’t sleep with that noise. I’d hear the technician’s footsteps come and go past my door as he visited the water cooler. My heart rate rose each time they neared. The possibility of being disturbed is often much more disturbing to me than actually being disturbed.
Diego came in the next morning to wake me up. He disconnected my cables from the box and then disappeared without further instruction. It appeared that his shift had ended. How cliché, I thought, of a man to wake you up just as he’s sneaking out. After a few minutes and a trip to the shared bathroom with my cable box in hand, wires still attached to my face and head and taped up around my knees, a new technician whose name I can only assume was Rolf (he didn’t introduce himself but looked more like a Rolf than anyone I’ve ever met) came in and asked what I would like for breakfast.
“Tea?” I asked, my throat sore from the post-nasal drip of the night before.
“I don’t have tea.” I found this weird since I had just overheard him offer another patient an infusion. Are infusions different than tea? “I have caffeine-free coffee.” I agreed to this and wondered why he’d ever asked me what I wanted if he only had one thing. I don’t understand people.
I sat on the side of the bed, unsure what to do, holding the ends of my face and head wires in a box in my hand, feeling like I was in a Wed Anderson film. Rolf returned with a plastic cup of hot milk, a small packet of instant coffee and a plate of two plastic-wrapped muffins. He set it down on the desk and I migrated over to stare at my breakfast. I took a few sips of the warm milk before deciding I really didn’t need any more congestants and had a couple lame bites of a muffin before noticing my lack of appetite. Rolf had brought in another chair so I grabbed my book and curled up in it. I still had a day of more sleep tests ahead of me but no one had given me information about what they’d involve. Nobody was really telling me anything. As I read, I overhead Rolf conducting a sleep study in the next room. “Open your eyes. Now close your eyes. Now focus on a fixed spot,” he’d repeat at varying intervals over the next hour. Was this to be my next sleep exam? It sounded dreadful. Having Rolf sit next to me as I anxiously wondered whether I was opening and closing my eyes correctly or enough was not something I felt prepared to handle at that moment.
A little while after finishing up with the other patient, Rolf came in and merely said “Alright, let’s go,” and motioned to the bed. I took it that Rolf didn’t have much experience getting girls into bed outside of work. I set down my book on the chair and climbed into bed, Rolf reconnecting my cables to the bigger box and switching off the lights as he instructed me to try to sleep for around 20 minutes. By now, I knew well that I would not be getting any sleep at this sleep clinic. Still, I tried to relax myself into a slumber over the next twenty minutes, summoning memories of mindful breathing techniques I had learned but never mastered. Just as I felt the possibility of sleep come upon me, Rolf barreled in, flipping on the lights and approaching to unplug me. He then left and again, I sat on the side of my bed not sure what to do. I decided to go pee, an ever-precarious attempt not to electrocute myself as I was something of a walking battery.
Some of the things that were attached to me
Throughout the day, I alternated between reading and attempting to sleep for about an hour at a time, four more times. After my last sleep test, Rolf brought alcohol-soaked cotton balls to my hair as he attempted to de-cement the cables from my head. He told me that the rest of the glue would wash out in the shower when I washed my hair and then invited me to shower in the clinic bathroom. I politely declined, wanting to get the heck out of there, and after collecting my things I emerged from the clinic into the warm afternoon sunlight, tired and somewhat traumatized. I was eager to get home, take a shower, pop a sleeping pill and go to bed. What a silly thought to have after spending 20 hours in a sleep clinic.
When I got home, I wasted no time before hopping in the shower to shampoo out the glue, but it wouldn’t budge. I was angry with Rolf for lying to me. I was angry at Diego for not giving me a chance to blow my nose before attaching the under-nose sensor. I was angry at the sleep clinic for having thin walls and for the sleep study for even thinking a normal, albeit anxious, person would be able to get a true night’s sleep while hooked up to machines. I was angry at myself for even bothering to investigate my sleep issues. I decided I would henceforth turn to self-medication.
For the next full hour, I used every shampoo, conditioner, soap, and shaving gel I had to scrub my scalp and try to remove the glue, and sometimes came dangerously close to taking a BIC razor to my hair. I wailed and grunted and screamed, wondering if my roommates were home and thought I was having some sort of trauma/cleanliness-related psychological crisis a la Lady Macbeth (“Out, damned spot!”). For the first 40 minutes nothing seemed to work, but then my Matrix Biolage (free tip for those who might ever have glue in their hair) conditioner seemed to be getting some loose. I scraped and peeled and prodded and finally got most of the glue out. I emerged from the shower prunier than I’d been in ages. I’m not one for long showers. I much prefer being clean to actually getting clean and my showers are usually an in-and-out kind of business.
I had dinner and got in my pajamas that looked like street clothes and got in my bed and read my book. I took a pill and finally finally got some sleep.