Sleeping Wide Awake


Work holds a monthly event, an open mic night for creatives. I fill in for BEST FRIEND (who used to emcee) to the best of my ability – work was her business, she was the boss, and the host of all functions.

As an event, participants feel the warmth of the occasion – not just the physical warmth of the work studio, but also the emotional and spiritual warmth that was so much the foundation of what BEST FRIEND (and her husband) built for their business.

But there’s this irreconcilable reality that exists: what was (when she was emcee) and what is (not so much me as emcee, but the reason I emcee), and the more those two realities try to occupy the same space, the more they shred one another until they reveal the chasm between what I project externally and what’s going on internally.

I’ve learned to mask things ever since I was dealing with anxiety and depression as a teen in the 1980s – back then, you’d never admit those conditions given the stigma. You’d become a pariah. And then with Greek culture being so material about stature (and reputation), you’d also never admit what would be considered inadequacies.

So my face became a mask I put on in public, and the real me gets kicked to some dim recess of my mind where the shadows of pain (physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual) lurk and promulgate and, occasionally, try to crack the façade. Most times, publicly, I can keep them at bay. You’d never know how I feel given what I project.

But compounding everything tonight is my right foot has begun to hurt – the sole has grown tender, so it’s telling me, shouting at me, to take the weight off of it. But I can’t; I can’t right now because I want this to be as good as it can possibly be. So it’s maintain the pretense even as a new pain, this cramping tightness, emerges at the front of the shin – in twelve years, I’ve never had this before.

None of these things worry me – they’re not indicators of deterioration, although I’m always bemused when new sensations arise. But, so far, rest gradually fixes things.

Only I have the walk home after the function’s over, and now that I’m out of the public eye and it’s just me and the night and the cold, the façade can corrode so the shadows seep out to enshroud me, and the cries of my foot each time I put it down (as well as its increasingly loudening pleas to get off it) become so emblematic of life at this moment, I punch a stone wall.

Here’s an aside: I used to watch the medical drama, House, about a brilliant doctor, Gregory House, who suffers from chronic pain. In one episode he smashes his hand with a hammer, and later they explain something the brain does called “gating”, which means it can only focus on one pain. So by smashing his hand, House was trying to take the focus of pain from his leg.

My glove insulates my hand to some extent, and although it hurts there’s no immediate or resounding pain, but for that moment, there’s nothing else – no shadows, no chronic pain, no grief, nothing but an instant of absence of all these fucking things that are not only otherwise omnipresent but absolute in their existence.

And for this moment, they’re gone.

For this moment.

When I get home, I find I’ve bruised the third knuckle – it’s always the third knuckle that takes the brunt of the impact whenever I do this. But my foot is hurting more.

I go to bed and can’t sleep.

The sheet and doona are too heavy on my foot, and I can almost hear – as well as feel – it whimpering, like a petulant child after a tantrum retreating to a corner to sulk.

The ringing in my ears is especially loud tonight.