Sleep is hard work here in Cancerland, at least the way I do it.
First of all, there is the long, long, almost always ultimately fruitless search for some position, any position, in which most of me, or a lot of me, or some of me, or — hell — any of me at all can be comfortable.
The problem is that I am now (I know I’ve said this before, and probably too often) a bedknob-and-broomstick contraption. I cannot lie down — just, you know, lie down — without thinking that there must be a corkscrew in the bed under me somewhere, but that I cannot for the life of me find…a corkscrew, or a nailclipper, or some other damn thing that I know for damn sure I never brought with me, so what the hell are such things doing where they are anyway? And where are the bastards? Why I can’t I find them?
And so begins a business very like the process of trying to put some complicated gizmo — a disassembled bicycle, say, or a cuckoo clock that has been shipped flat –back in its original packaging. I mean that really complicated original packaging, consisting of many, many fitted and cut-out pieces of styrofoam. You know how this goes. You get things almost squared away, and then have a piece or two left over with no space for them in the packaging at all, and there is nothing for it but to start over, because clearly you need to begin with some other piece than the one you tried first. So you unpack it all, and try again, with the same result. And again. And again.
So it happens also with me in bed. I fold and unfold and refold myself over and over and over — maybe if I put my leg here, and my arm here, and then have a pillow here — I can avoid that damn invisible corkscrew, and I will be able to sleep. I think, for quarters and halves of an hour, that I’ve done it. But I haven’t. Goddamn it to hell, I still am lying on something. And then…unfold, refold…unfold, refold. Some awful nights, I begin to become dimly aware that there is light outside. The sun is up. Shall I keep at this stupid process, or just get up, exhausted though I am? Often enough, that is what I do. Seize the day, and all that. Yeah. Before it seizes you.
As if this folding and unfolding weren’t enough, I am also having to deal the whole time with urgent telegrams sent back to headquarters by my hand.
This requires a little explanation. It is in the evolutionary development of the hand to go off on its own when nothing else is required of it. Night-crawling, is what it does — to take inventory, to take comfort, to give comfort, to assess, caress, and all that. This is a good thing, you understand. Watch a mother’s hand on her infant. Whether the mother knows what she is doing or not, whether she means to be doing it or not, her hand goes, light and gentle as a moving shadow, all over the baby, belly, bum, thighs, neck, top of head, cheeks. The baby loves this, needs this, and so does the mother. And, most especially, the hand loves and needs this. It is one of the things, one of the most important things, it was made to do. What in hell is all that cupping complexity for if not for this?
So fine. Our babies grow up, they leave home, the hand isn’t going to stop. It goes off at night round our bedmates, and that is good too And then, when we have no bedmates…well, what else is the hand going to do but go night-crawling around our own bodies. This is still a good thing, especially when we don’t know it’s happening because we are asleep. But when we are not asleep — fold, unfold, refold — and therefore know it is happening, it leads to complications.
See, as I say, my hand keeps sending back these telegrams of alarm, because it is not finding what it has always found before, and expects still to find, even after all this time in Cancerland. It is not finding the nice old sand-dune contours it found back home in the Healthy States. It finds itself not on the beach at Cape Cod but in some kind of rock quarry, or a junkyard. And, poor beast, it is alarmed, confused, puzzled, and sends — as I say — these telegrams of warning.
Alert. Alert. Handle of large samovar at three o’clock! Handle of large samovar at three o’clock!
No, Manny. That’s our hip bone. Not to worry.
Woop, woop, woop: Bulb-handled cane, bulb-handled cane, bulb-handled…
Manny, it’s okay. That’s just the end of the thigh-bone, where it goes into the pelvis.
Please advise. Please advise. Some kind of broken crockery is lodged where it ought not to be.
O God. That’s just the old sit-upon. Or what’s left of it. Please stop, Manny. Get a grip. No! Don’t get a grip. Turn over on your back, like a good spider, and just be quiet for a while, okay?
Fold, unfold, refold.
It is a punishing business, trying to get some rest.