By Hannah Lee.
Today I went on a writing adventure into Brooklyn. I attended a writing workshop held by the New York Writing Coalition – a non profit organization that gives a creative voice to people from all walks of life through writing practice.
We were given the prompt: Everybody is ahead of everybody else. I came to the workshop a little late, so I only had twenty minutes to write but here is what I came up with.
The dead zone. That’s the time between 2AM and the sunrise. It’s the space of time that makes you feel like a ghost, hanging around bitterly in the living room while the rest of your housemates are sound asleep. You lurk in the kitchen, making a cup of tea. You stare into the blue black sky like a zombie, immobilized by how useless you really are.
I’ve done every tip, recommendation, idea, and suggestion, every tried and tested remedy in the book for sleeplessness. Eat healthier, exercise, meditate, read, designate 30 minutes of stress time and juice out your worries so they don’t creep into bed with you. Confront your inner boogie monster by saying positive affirmations in front of the mirror. I said mine in an awkward whisper. I’ve done these before. But here I am. I’m back in the dead zone.
I push the sliding door to the balcony and rest my cup of tea on one of the sundeck chairs. I close the door behind me so that I can have the winter wind all to myself. I always choose to sit on the floor. I cross my legs like an angsty Buddha, prepare my forbidden cigarette, and brace the hot cup of tea in my hands. This is my ritual. The formalities of being one of The Unslept.
I stare down at the yellow cabs that occasionally zip down the street below. I indulge in following them with my eyes as far as I can see, wondering where they’re headed, what they’re thinking – these fellow sleepless companions. In the apartment building opposite, most lights are off, but the rare few that are awake now light up their square windows like lighthouses to the drifters who can’t drift to sleep.
Signs of life at this time are always symbolized by light. The butt of my cigarette glows and dies, glows and dies with every drag, and I release the ghost of that fire with the stream of grey white smoke.
I recall attending the funeral of a college classmate. I didn’t know him well enough to be sad, but we had many mutual friends, which I guess got me into the funeral party. I remember some of my close friends – eyes red and bloated from crying, dramatically sliding down walls with grief, hyperventilating, and skipping classes, taking personal days and all that. With the smallest pinch of guilt I remember thinking, ‘What is the big deal?’ Everyone dies. Everyone loses someone they knew. Everyone gets to heaven, hell, the afterlife, Disneyland, whatever’s on the other side at some point. Everyone is ahead of everyone else. Some are just waiting, biding their time.
The sun starts to rise. It touches the cloud with lemonade colors, and the dead zone begins to ebb into the everyday routine of just another Monday. Sleepless Night Number Five has ended. I grind the head of the cigarette against concrete and flick it off the balcony into the morning sky.