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I’ve never had any problems falling asleep, but lately staying asleep has been a bit of a challenge. More nights than not, I find myself wide awake at the unholiest of hours.
Once awake, I’ll look and listen to the hazy world of nighttime and start to notice subtle things, such as the wooden floorboards expanding and contracting or the gurgling of the basement sump pump. Maybe it’s the refrigerator condenser cycling on and off or the ice-cube maker dumping the occasional load into the freezer bucket.
It’s the usual and subtle dissonance of house noises, which go largely unnoticed during the day, that become amplified in the wee hours, adding subtle layers to the rhythm of the domestic orchestra.
Milo, our dog, isn’t bothered too much by the delicate noises indoors, but let a twig snap a half-mile away from the bedroom and he’ll start growling as if there were pirates in the living room.
Me? I just kick back and try to sort it all out. Once I start thinking, I get tired and eventually fall back to sleep – eventually being the key word.
Tonight, I’ve settled into my pillow and focused on what’s around me, and it’s then that I start to notice little dots of light, some blinking, some not. This is the electronic world we live in, I think, and while lying there I try to lull myself back to sleep by counting all of these bits of light as if they were 21st-century sheep jumping over a fence.
It doesn’t work.
Up in the corner of the bedroom, the smoke alarm blinks its little green light all night long. There are nine of these alarms in the house, all throbbing with anxious readiness, except that this one is somewhat muted by the piece of white tape I put on it three minutes after it was installed. I can still see it winking at me, though.
This morning, the backup battery in one of the normally silent alarms started chirping to let me know it was breathing its last and would need to be replaced. Where’s the ladder? Where are the extra batteries again? What size are they?
All of this competes with the glowing red light on the bedroom TV, a light that my wife has partly covered with a carefully trimmed piece of black electrical tape. The edges of the light still have to show so that the remote control will work, so we’ve tried to block the faint luminous halo with strategically angled framed photographs.
Meanwhile, the Roku box beneath the TV casts an aura of white light around my watch, which I purposely placed in front of the light before I went to bed. The entire top of the dresser is arranged in a form of defensive feng shui.
Off in the adjacent bathroom, the electric toothbrushes are charging in their respective stands, each of their nickel-sized green rings of light reflected and magnified in the mirror. The entire room looks awash in gamma radiation. If it weren’t so distracting it might be pretty.
I finally get up and make my way to the kitchen for a glass of water, guided by a runway of flat nightlights plugged into various outlets so we won’t walk into things or stumble over the staircase.
Nightlights notwithstanding, I’ve walked into everything possible many times over, and I think my toes have permanently curled into a protective gnarl as the result of my nocturnal clumsiness. I know what it feels like to walk face first, full steam ahead, into a wooden column and I can confirm that you really do see stars when you’re hit hard in the head.
The nightlights are almost redundant because the glow from the digital clocks on the stove and microwave in the kitchen are more than enough to see by.
While I’m drawing the glass of water, I look out the kitchen window. The moon lights up the yard, but I don’t know what I expect to see out there. Maybe a deer? Or a burglar in a striped shirt and a mask tiptoeing by the window? In all the years I’ve looked outside in the dead of night, I’ve never seen anything.
The glass of water is quickly finished, so I shuffle back to the bedroom, back into bed, and cover my head with the blanket.
Once buried under the covers, I begin to wonder: Are all of these lights really necessary? If a thing is plugged in, can’t I assume that it’s working? Do I really need a light to tell me something is plugged in? Isn’t that what the prongs are for? Do burglars still wear eye masks?
I start to count the time between the muffled smoke-detector tweets and try to drift back to sleep. Meanwhile, Milo has moved up to the top of the bed and flopped his weight against my back, never once wondering what I’ve been doing for the past hour.
It’s still too early to get up for good, but there’s just enough time left before daybreak to tack on some useful sleep, so I find myself hoping for a power outage.
Maybe if it was completely dark, completely silent, I could actually …
Rick Garvia lives in Spencerport, N.Y.