Accepting My Insomnia Changed My Nights Forever

I pull into a Denny’s parking lot. The sky is a deep purple with subtle hints of gray starting to come through. I’m guessing it’s around three in the morning. I make it a habit not to look at the time until sunrise. I sit in a booth by the window, order a hot tea and request the crayons that come with the kid’s menu.

People ask me how I function and, for a long time, I didn’t. The functioning and the answer came later, when I learned to embrace the silent hours as the world around me slept.

The weirdest way I relax: chronic insomnia.

Being around people but not with people are for the nights when the day was hard. Twenty-four-hour diners littered with truckers, teens that might be runaways, waiters with voices dipped in honey. It’s a little club of us. We don’t bother each other but perhaps appreciate the company all the same.

It’s mundane tasks that sometimes do the trick: ironing and steaming with precision, erasing any trace of wrinkles, pressing perfect pleats. I avoid screens. I research endlessly — topics that intrigue me but don’t upset me. Politics, for example, require a bit of sunlight. Textbooks, particularly zoology textbooks, are always a good call. I memorize the behavioral patterns of my boyfriend’s favorite animals to recite to him in the morning over coffee. Meerkats, prairie dogs, moles. He seems to have a thing for animals that burrow. I practice my handwriting, cursive and print in neat blocks on crisp white paper.

I “rest,” or lay with my eyes shut, holding perfectly still like I’m the poor actor that gets to play the corpse during an excruciatingly long monologue in Law & Order.

These hours of time in-between, I’ve learned to cherish them. I knit or draw or fold shirts into cubes of cotton. I drive or walk or read. I count the freckles on my left arm. Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. The Virgin Mary is always painted in blue. Meerkats build separate sleeping and toilet chambers in their burrows. You can order a single pancake at Denny’s for $1.00.

Through the window, the gray has turned to mauve, and in an hour or so, it will lend itself to different shades of pink, followed in quick succession by an eruption of orange and gold. This, for me, is another way to meditate, perhaps my favorite way of all: memorizing the gentle hues of the night sky as it slowly fades to light. I’ll watch it on the freeway home.

You can follow Maddison in Instagram here. Collage by Rachelle Klapheke; photographed by Edith Young.

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