“In my dreams of this city I am always lost” ― Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
“The trick in that town was getting through a night at all without stalling in the sludge of your own thoughts.” ― Mary Karr, Cherry
I can’t sleep in Minnesota. Sunrise in the Land of 10,000 Lakes usually finds me bleary and burning-eyed, tossing and turning on the living room couch. I eventually pass out at 7AM or so, waking up in the late afternoon to repeat the process. I always have a certain amount of trouble getting to sleep, but it’s definitely worst here. Only in Minnesota am I completely nocturnal.
I don’t think it’s this state so much as this house, which is too haunted with the ghosts of other nights I couldn’t get to sleep. As a kid I shared a bedroom with my sister Tamar, who seemed to pass out the moment my mom flipped the light switch. With the lights off and her asleep, I couldn’t read the hands of the clock. I had to sneak into my parents’ room as they slept to read their glowing digital clock. Careful not to wake Tamar, I would try to kill as any minutes as possible in between checking the time. I can check the clock after I count to 1,000. I can check the clock after I think of an animal that starts with every letter of the alphabet. I can check the clock after doing 100 jumping jacks in the hallway. Time seemed to pass so slowly that I was surprised I didn’t look physically older in the morning.
In high school I fell asleep on couches in the library, in my seat at the Harkness table, on the cot in the nurse’s lounge. Everyone assumed that I was just slept more than anyone else, but in reality, the only time I slept was at school. Nights at home found me wide awake, trying every free bed and couch in the house, failing to fall asleep in any of them. I know that many people can’t sleep because they’re worrying or anxious, but I think that I worry because I can’t sleep. When you’re the only one awake at 4AM in a dark, silent house, there’s nothing you can do except examine all of your perceived personal failures in excruciating detail. It’s hard to relax when I can’t stop thinking, Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the time I never get to sleep again. There’s no such thing as a good or kind or productive thought when you’re awake before the birds.
Being back in Minnesota is hard. There’s nothing left for me here. Tamar is gone forever. Her desk is still covered in her high school debate trophies, but there are also stacks of programs left over from her memorial service. There’s a new guest bed in her room. I haven’t tried sleeping there. After I sort of dropped out of high school, I largely lost contact with all of my friends. I have nothing to do here but drift through the house trying and failing to sleep.
Even sleeping pills don’t work the way they should in Minnesota. Normally I take (prescription) Ambien, do some weird shit on social media that I won’t remember in the morning (like follow every boy I had a crush on in elementary school and haven’t seen since then on Instagram), and fall into a deep, drugged, Snow White sleep. In the morning I wake up with 23 new Tinder matches when I hadn’t even had a Tinder the night before, but at least I’m finally well-rested. Here I get trapped in some amber layer between awake and dreaming. I am writhing in a sea of warm milk. My mattress is rocking gently, a boat in a lake just before a storm. I’m underwater, looking at the world through a periscope. When it wears off a few hours later, I find that I’ve friended every single other Liat Kaplan on Facebook but haven’t actually slept.
Tonight is my last night in Minnesota. In the morning, I leave for 3 months for my summer internship in New York.
The city that never sleeps.