Because this is a Halloween piece and I want to finish it no later than sometime tomorrow (lest it lose its timelyness), I’m moving this story along at a much faster pace than I would otherwise. So if it seems rushed, that would be the reason. Also, I’m about 2 pages away from another chapter of Empty Nest, so that’s on my list for tomrorow as well. Enjoy.
What happened when the Masterson girl crashed her car wasn’t pretty, but it was a miracle it wasn’t worse. She’d swerved to avoid a dog that had wandered onto the road, flipped her Jeep a couple of times and landed in a ditch. The Jeep was smashed to hell: you could find odd chunks of metal and a zillion shards of glass in the high grass several feet away from where the wrecked heap came to rest. But aside from a few cuts and scrapes and some lingering soreness, the girl, Emily, was OK. Didn’t even need to go to the hospital.
I asked Don Barger from the EMS about it and he said it was the damndest thing. He’d seen a bunch of wrecks and told me some weren’t as bad as they looked and some were far worse. This one though, confused the hell out of him.
“The way that Jeep crumpled, the way the roof caved in, she was damn near lucky she didn’t get crushed to death,” he said.
“She was wearing a seatbelt though,” I said. “And whatabout them airbags?”
Don shook his head. “The seatbelt’ll keep you from flyin out the car, but when the car’s caving in on you, that’s where you don’t want to be. And the airbag never deployed. Don’t ask me why.”
In the weeks that followed, Emily told me she’d been having trouble sleeping. It wasn’t that she couldn’t fall asleep – she was usually out within 15 minutes of her head hitting the pillow – it was that her sleep was of the violent, restless, sheet-twisting-and-pools of sweat variety. She told me she was pretty sure she was having nightmares, but she could never remember what they were about.
“Honey, if that’s the worst of it, then maybe you should count your blessings,” I told her.
- The Search for Sleep
Emily was tired. Tired because she hadn’t been sleeping, tired of feeling her chest seize up every time she heard the sound of squealing brakes, and, tired most of all of people telling her how lucky she was. She felt glad to be alive, true, but beyond that she didn’t feel especially fortunate. She had midterms and students loans and her grandmother’s health to worry about. Her babysitting gigs were erratic, but she didn’t have the time to commit to a more stable (re: better paying) job. She was single. Her next car purchase seemed light years away. Add all of this to the lack of sleep and its side effects and she didn’t feel lucky at all.
“You look like shit,” her friend Caitlin told her as she approached a round table in the group study floor of the campus library.
“You’re pretty too,” Emily replied sarcastically, though she had seen her own reflection that morning. Her hair looked like pasted-on black strands that hung limply over her face and her blue eyes were taking on an unwelcome reddish tinge. Also, she might have been coming down with a cold. Just maybe.
“How many nights is this now?” Caitlin asked.
Emily shrugged. She hadn’t been keeping count.
“It would be great if someone could be there to tell me what I’m doing when I’m asleep at least,” she said.
“You know I love you, but I totally can’t pull an all-nighter right now,” Caitlin told her. “Maybe you should ask Jon.”
Emily’s face reddened at the mention of Jon Daniels. He was a well-tanned, muscular boy who shared a few of Emily’s biology classes. At first, she dismissed him as a misplaced jock in store for a rather painful reality check. But as she got to know him better, she found out that he was actually quite smart (a double-major in biology and exercise science), affable and surprisingly considerate.
Still, she’d noticed his sizeable arms first and they created an image that was difficult to dispel. She’d even drunkenly confided in Caitlin that she’d had fantasies about him, him grabbing her in the library amid the tall shelves, clamping one strong hand over her mouth and the other down her pants. And while Caitlin saw fit to tease her endlessly about her lust for “the beef,” she and Jon were actually becoming closer in a platonic way. They were stay in and watch a movie friends, punch each other lightly (extra-lightly in his case) on the arm friends, friends who could hit each other up for meals and drinks and think nothing of it. But to ask him to spend the night watching her sleep would be awkward and she knew better than to pretend otherwise.
“I don’t think so,” Emily said, sniffling as she spoke.
“Aww, why not?” Caitlin teased. “Maybe you could, like, sleep in his lap or something and he can beat the shit out of whatever’s haunting you.”
Emily feigned a smile and pulled a blue binder from her bag. A test approached and there was a list of terms that needed defining.
Jon was in Emily’s last class of the day and he would frequently walk with her to her dorm (his being only a short distance away). He too noted she didn’t look well, though his delivery was more tactful than Caitlin’s had been.
“Yeah, I haven’t been sleeping well,” she replied, sniffling more loudly than before.
“Still?” he asked.
She explained that she didn’t know what was causing it, that pills did nothing, that the one doctor she had been to had been at a loss for an explanation and that she was at her wits’ end. She also restated her wish for a sleep observer, though quickly became embarrassed when Jon "Umm"ed in response.
“I totally wouldn’t ask that of you,” she said. “I mean, not that I don’t trust you or anything. I mean…”
“I don’t mind,” he said at last.
“You sure?” she asked.
“Sure I’m sure,” he said. “It’s not like I need to be up early tomorrow for anything.”
“I can do it later.”
“Thanks, Jon,” she said. “If you ever need me to watch you sleep, just let me know.”
“Nah,” he said. “I snore.”
He came over a little before 9 that night and they killed time talking before the late night shows came on. Emily kept herself awake until midway through Colbert, at which point she announced, by way of yawn, that she was going to bed.
“OK,” Jon said. “You want me to turn this off?”
“Nah, you can leave it on,” she said. “Just turn the volume down.”
“Cool,” he said.
“Remember,” she reminded him. “Don’t wake me up, no matter how much tossing I do. I need to know what’s going on.”
“What if you get up and start attacking me?” he joked.
“Oh, I think you’ll be able to handle it,” she replied. “Goodnight, Jon, and thanks again.”
And so, while Jon watched “Conan the Barbarian” with the volume down, Emily slept – or tried to. She was right about the tossing and turning, he observed. But there had been more to it than that. Around 2:30 a.m., she’d started talking to herself. And by 4 a.m., contra to her instructions, he was shaking her awake.
“Huh? Wha?” she asked, brushing the disorientation from her eyes.
“You need to wake up,” Jon told her. “Right now.”
“What was I doing?” she asked, a hint of reprimand in her voice.
“Talking to yourself,” he said. “Weird shit. And your voice, oh man, your voice…”
“What, Jon?” she asked. “What was I saying?”
“It’s not just what you were saying, it’s how you were saying it,” he explained. “It wasn’t you talking. It was like a little kid almost.”
Raising his voice as best as he could muster, he repeated some of the word’s she’d spoken, “Do I hafta, Daddy, I don’t wanna? Please, Daddy. Please don’t make me. Ow! Owie, owie, oww…”
When Jon had finished, he and Emily stared at each other in horrified silence. Both had scene their fair share of movies, had weighed then dismissed the things that seemed possible only in imagination. There were no ghosts or zombies or vampires or aliens; only strange things in want of a mundane explanation. But in that moment, the all pretense to knowledge went out the window.
“Oh my God,” Emily said. “Did I really…”
“Yeah,” Jon said slowly. “You did.”
“It’s so weird though,” she said.
He sighed awkwardly and scratched his head. A question had crossed his mind the moment he’d accepted that he’d heard what he heard and though he dreaded asking it now, he thought it best to get it out there.
“Look, Em, did your Dad…”
But she didn’t seem to be listening. Another “Oh my God” escaped her lips and even in the dim light of the table lamp he’d turned on to wake her, he could see she was blushing furiously. A moment later, he learned why: she had wet the bed.
Emily decided to take the following day off, in hopes that she would either feel better or find out what was going on or, ideally, both. Besides, she needed some time to cool down after blowing up at Jon. She supposed she owed him a whopper of an apology.
The blow-up had not occurred over the bed-wetting. Though Emily was profusely embarrassed, Jon tried to downplay it, telling her it was no big deal.
“Yeah, it is,” she countered. “I haven’t wet the bed since I was like 4.”
Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. She’d woken up with damp panties several nights since the wreck, but the discharge was minor and she chalked it up to being ill and tired. It was nothing like the past night’s incident, in which she’d soaked the sheets. She took no comfort in blaming it on the forgotten nightmare, either, even though that was almost certainly the cause. Her bladder had failed her and she felt bad about it, Jon’s attempts to make her feel better to the contrary.
What made her blow up at Jon happened after they both discovered the wet bed, after he’d come close to making her feel better about it, after the clock ticked past 5 a.m. and sun threatened to emerge any minute now. What had happened was that he’d asked her, cautiously, but unforgivably just the same, if her father had ever molested her.
“What?” she’d asked, taken aback by the suggestion.
“Because of what you said,” Jon explained.
“But that didn’t even sound like me.”
“I know, but…”
“No, OK,” she said, the annoyance growing. If he’d stopped right there, it would have been awkward but salvageable. Instead, he pressed on.
“Look, maybe something happened a long time ago and it got repressed and this dream was trying to remind you of it,” he suggested.
“Damnit, Jon, my fucking father never molested me. God, why don’t you just leave me the hell alone!”
And so he had gone and she seethed at him the rest of the morning – seethed in the shower (where she lingered longer than normal), seethed during her clandestine run to the laundry room, seethed until nearly lunchtime at which point she felt rather bad about it. After all, Jon was only trying to help her figure this whole thing out, albeit in an inept, indelicate way.
Still, she avoided him and Caitlin and just about everyone for the rest of the day. She stole mini-naps, catching sleep in 15-30 minute increments, and took meandering walks around the campus. Eventually, she did contemplate what Jon had suggested and while it struck her as completely ridiculous, she had to admit it wasn’t impossible.
Horrible as it was, the night had not been a total loss. Emily felt as if she’d made some progress on the no-sleep issue, even if that first step raised a lot of questions. She picked up a tape recorder at the campus store and, with as much discretion as she could muster, some incontinence products at the CVS off campus. She was divided on the latter purchase. On the one hand, she didn’t know for certain that she’d wet the bed again and she felt that by protecting herself against that possibility, she’d given it greater certitude than it deserved. On the other hand, she REALLY didn’t want to deal with wet sheets again.
That night, over the opening of The Daily Show, Emily dressed for bed. She stripped off her panties and opened the bag of disposable underwear. They were the pull-on variety, which made her feel a little bit less like she was wearing diapers, but otherwise did little to mask their purpose. She blushed again as she pushed the brief over her hips, reminding herself not to drink with Caitlin any time soon lest she acquire a new nickname she’d never live down (Crinklebutt? PottyPants? the possibilities were endless).
In due time, however, Emily had to conclude the briefs weren’t that bad. Without the crinkle there to remind her, she’d almost forgotten she’d had them on. And she was able to pull them down to pee without any complications whatsoever.
“I’m a big girl now,” she sang to herself, giggling as she left the bathroom. Some things never ceased being funny and the universal applicability of the Pull-Ups jingle (to her current predicament, to a pregnant Jamie Lynn Spears, to Sarah Palin) was one of them.
This time, Emily made it all the way through The Colbert Report before concluding that it was time for bed. Just before turning off the lights, she checked the batteries on the tape recorder and turned it on. If the little girl or Pazuzu or whoever crawled up her ass while she slept, at least she’d hear about it come morning.