April 9, 2020


"I'm awaaaaaaaaakkkkeeee!" Elaine called from her room next to ours.

I grumbled.

"I'm awaaaaaaaakkkkkee....." she called again. Kacie hadn't heard her yet; I slept on the side next to the old closet that was now Elaine's room so I always heard her first. I kept my eyes shut tightly, still clinging deperately to sleep. I hoped that maybe, this time, Elaine would fall back asleep

I'm aaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakkkkkkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," she called, her voice getting more sing-songy with each iteration.

"I'm aaaawwww —"

"Then wake yourself up!" I shouted.

I heard her stirring in her room, climbing out of her toddler bed in the corner to walk the five feet or so to her door, at which point she would fling it open so that it banged against ours and bounced back.

I reached over to grab my phone from the nightstand and check the time. Seven-Thirty. Damnit. It seemed like it had only been a minute since I snoozed my Seven AM alarm. Now we would have to rush... or not, I thought, as Elaine climbed up the side of our bed and crawled to the top to get into our covers. We could just eat at home instead of trying to make it to school in time for breakfast. Then I could sleep a little longer...

But Elaine never lets us sleep when she's next to us. She's a constant ball of motion, perpetually wriggling, talking, pretending to be something — today she had brought her ratty old stuffed turtle, Rosie, into our bed and she was getting in and out of the covers, meowing like a cat, saying "meeeooww, this kitty wants to play."

My eyes were half-closed, and I turned over to face Elaine. She was playing in between me and Kacie, who I could see was still groggy, her headphones half-falling out of her ears — she always had to watch something in order to sleep, lately it was Grey's Anatomy, and so she slept with headphones on and curled over her phone. She claimed she hardly slept at all, maybe a few hours a night, and for a long time I didn't believe her — there's no way a person could function on that little sleep regularly, it strained the imagination.

Lately, however, I had been getting my own taste of insomnia. Every few weeks something would happen, I would get in a fight at work, or hear from my dad, or be holding a grudge against Kacie, and I would feel completely normal until I lay my head down on the pillow at night, and I would know, know, that tonight I would not sleep.

"Oh, you can't believe that," I would think, "then you really won't be able to fall asleep."

I would lay down on my side, absentmindedly watch someone stream Magic The Gathering on my phone, sometimes restlessly flipping between streamers, unless yamakiller was on, I could watch him for hours. There was something about his stream that I found comforting, you could tell it was just a bunch of guys hanging out, there was an ease to his interactions with chat, a spontaneity and a freedom from their normal awkwardness in the world.

I would watch as I felt tiredness slip over my body, shifting around the bed — it was still too early for Kacie to lay down, so I could turn from side to side, in fact I would feel compelled to; I hugged a pillow tightly and flipped on to my left side, only to become so uncomfortable minutes later that I had to flip over to my right, pulling the pillow over with me and shifting it around, feeling the difference in the presence it gave me as I held it.

"Ok," I would think, "this had better be the last time I flip over tonight. I need to be able to sleep tonight. I need to be rested for tomorrow." I would lay there, my head pressed against the pillow, my eyes squeezed shut, and I would begin to become aware of a sound, strange and yet deeply familiar, a gentle eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that had been a background to my consciousness for many years, my tinnitus, which of course got worse the more I was bothered by it, so the thing to do was definitely not pay attention to it, just ignore it, let it go on by, it was nothing, just something droning on over there, pay it no mind.


I would clench my jaw and feel a burning constriction begin to form in my chest, make its way up to my throat, and merge with the force in my chin that ground my teeth together.

I would turn over and shut my eyes tightly. I had to get to sleep. If I just kept eyes closed I would have to fall asleep at some point. There was no way I could stay conscious all night.

But then the chattering, the remorse, the relentless need to apologize, would fire up, loudly revisiting the day's events in my head, and I would turn over, trying to get it to just rest for a bit. Maybe I will end up apologizing, but for now let's get some sleep.

"Well, there are some circumstances under which I could see apologizing, but here I genuinely think I don't have anything to apologize for," a voice in my head would say, but I would feel behind its incredible locution a deep abiding fury, an anger that burned in my chest like a smoldering coal, or the embers left over after hours of burning wood in a campfire. At this point I would decide to repeat my mantra, to drown out the voices by force of will.

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

I would shut my eyes, deliberately forcing them closed, clench my jaw, and pour every ounce of my attention into the mantra.

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

The melodic repetition of the words would drone on, but my attention would wander, driven by the forces playing themselves out below, which would prove too strong to ignore. I would turn over, grab my phone, and head to the living room to sleep on the futon. Maybe a change of scenery will help me sleep, I would think. I wouldn't dare check the time, not wanting to know how many hours had passed.

Those nights, the nights without sleep, could go on like that for what would feel like an eternity, hours upon hours upon hours. Sometimes I would end up on the futon turning over and over, hugging the extra pillows out there, and sometimes I would stay in our bed, perhaps watch some match, or maybe just keep my eyes closed and lie still until I heard Elaine shout, "I'm awaaaaaaakkkkkkeeeee."

I got out of bed and walked over to Elaine's dresser to pick out her clothes for the day. Lately all she wanted to wear was her yellow dress, but it had a stain on it, so I rifled through the middle drawer to find something I could convince her to wear in its stead. Elmo Shirt? No, she hadn't worn that in months. I spotted her white dress with the butterflies — she liked that one. I pulled it out, then opened the bottom drawer to get her pants, socks, and underwear.

"Okay Elaine, let's go get dressed" I said as I stood up and turned back towards the bed, where she still lay next to Kacie.

"No! No! No!" she shouted, mock-breathlessly, as she began to kick her legs up in the air, bucking them like a horse, bouncing her back up and down against the bed.

"Hey! Hey! No kicking!" Kacie shouted. "Remember? No kicking on the bed. Come on, be good for Daddy while he gets you dressed."

"Look Elaine," I said, "It's your butterfly dress. Let's put it on."

Elaine slid on to my lap and I took off her jammy pants, changed her pullup from overnight, tapped on her left leg, saying, "Ok, let's put our leg in, ok, there we go, now let's do the next leg."

We finished getting dressed, and by then, Kacie was ready to leave the house. I had been hoping she would offer to take Elaine to school; it was Wednesday, and I had done it the past two days in anticipation of today because I wanted to walk to Magic after work tonight, and so I didn't want to ride the bike, without which bringing Elaine to school would involve taking Muni to Civic Center and all the filth that that implied. Thankfully, Kacie did offer to bring Elaine to school and I had the flat to myself for the morning, so I decided to get my daily meditation out of the way before leaving for work; that would free me up to get high later. I did some minimal stretching, reached my arms out sideways until I felt the pull in my lats, then inhaled deeply through pursed lips as I raised my hands above my head, held them there, reaching up... and then pushed the air out of my lungs with an audible "pheeewwww" as I dropped my arms back down to my sides. I sat on the futon, propped one of the stiff brown pillows up behind my back, straightened it, and then brought my hands to rest lightly on top of my knees, thumb and forefinger gently opposed. I took a deep breath in through my nose and filled my chest, expanding my belly as I became aware of the weight my hands imposed as they lay on top of my legs and tapped into a rocky stillness at the back of my mind.

"Hnnnnnnnnnnph," I inhaled.

"phhhuuhhhhhh," I exhaled.



I settled, calm. I watched my breath as it flowed in cooly through my nostrils and down my throat like a soft liquid, and then flowed out on top of my tongue, through my bottom teeth, over my lips and out my mouth. Time passed.

I felt muscles relazing all over my body as my pulse slowed with the deep, full breaths. A familiar tingling began to start up at the crown of my head and flowed downwards, filling me with a sense of well-being. "Ah," I thought. "This is why I meditate." I sat within that glow for a minute or two before I noticed a movement — thoughts were stirring.

"I should probably take the bus to work given it'll be close to nine by the time I finish meditating."

"I'll have to change that endpoint to return a 409 instead of a 400."

"If Nina tries to get me to work on that project I'm going to throw a fit."

"Well at least I get to play magic tonight."

"Oh wait — was Elaine's dentist appointment this week or next?"

This last thought was not without reprecussions — I felt a compression move through my body, felt my jaw start to clench and my brow begin to furrow. A tightness began to form in my chest. I worried that it would spread, move on up to my throat, where it would —

"Okay, focus on your breath," I thought. I consciously inhaled through my nose, feeling the cool flow of air again, and the thoughts subsided. I shifted my weight around on the futon, fluffed the pillow behind my back, and brought my hands to a new position this time, resting on top of each other, thumbs gently touching. I inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly. I did it again, straining against the force I could feel now beginning to gather strength, pulling my awareness somewhere, somewhere else, it was like there was a ball somewhere off to the left and I needed to glance over to it, to see what it was, even though my eyes were closed and I would not allow myself to open them. But what if there was something there? No, that was preposterous. Maybe I should check my alarm, just in case I didn't set it before I started meditating. No, I know I set it. I saw it. What if I was confused? What if I didn't really set it? What if — I inhaled audibly through my nose and exhaled through my lips with a pheewww. The thoughts retreated, but there was a troubling new development — a numbness was beginning to form in my left jaw, which had started to clench around a point of extreme density. I started to worry. What if something was wrong? What if there really was something happening to me? What if this tightness, this density, this thing, made it's way down into my throat and started choking me?

"No, that won't happen," I thought. "Just calm down and focus on your meditation."

I inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly.

Something flashed in front of my mind's eye and I twitched, physically recoiling from it.

"What was that?" I thought. But I knew what it was. I had seen it many times since Elaine's dentist appointment when they had revealed to us the extent of the rot in her mouth. But really I had known something was wrong for a while, or I should have known something was wrong. There had been a brown mass mushed on top of her back molar; I had assumed it was just some old bits of food, a raisin or something, but she had been refusing to let us brush her teeth, insisting on doing it herself; we would have to hold her down while she screamed, like we did when she was one, one of us pinning her against our legs, grasping her arms and keeping her back straight, while the other would gingerly insert the toothbrush into her mouth and scrub, saying, "It's ok Elaine, we just have to brush to your teeth, it will be quick," but that never had any effect, she would scream, tears would stream down her face. We had grown complacent, allowing her to brush her own teeth, thinking she was doing a good enough job, and why go through all that stress besides? She was going to be fine.

Only she wasn't going to be fine. I knew that. She needed to be sedated in order to fill out the holes in her mouth.

The image came again, but this time I indulged it, lingered on it. It was Elaine. We had gone to the dentist to get her cavities filled, they had injected her with something to make her fall asleep for the operation which had gone well, but now something was wrong and she wouldn't wake up. I saw her there, lifeless, still, and I started shaking her, wake up, wake up Elaine, wake up. This was my fault. I should have said something at the dentist appointment in December. "Um, excuse me," I should have said to the dentist who had only briefly looked in to her mouth. "Could you look again?" I think there's something wrong. Can you look at her back teeth?" I should have said something then so that it wouldn't have gone this far, so that she wouldn't have needed sedation and now be lying here —

I pulled myself away from the vision. It wasn't real, I knew that, her appointment at UCSF was next week and then we would see what they said. Maybe she wouldn't even need sedation.

I picked up my phone and opened my eyes to check my meditation timer. Ten minutes left. Ok, I could finish. I had to finish.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, but I was unable to find comfort in the steady rythm of my breath. Something had been happening inside me, the tightness in my chest and jaw had merged, coalescing on my throat, on the side of my adam's apple. It was so tight it was like a tear, or a hole, something was swirling there, squeezing, compressing itself into a knot inside my throat.

"Oh no," I thought, "It's going to happen again." I was terrified. I was going to choke, I was going to gag, I knew it.

"Calm down," I said to myself. I tried to refocus. There couldn't be more than five minutes left in my meditation. I could make it.

Another image came to me, but this one was a memory, it was last night. I had been laying in bed watching porn in the dark, the kind I liked best, casting porn, where an agent would guide an aspiring actress through a sex scene. They usually blurred the man's face, which heightened the illusion that something real was happening here — the man didn't want to be seen, so he blurred his face. Only this time something was different, the girl was uneasy, she looked at the man warily; I was about to switch videos when it focused on the man's blurry face. "Why would it do that," I wondered, but then I saw something happening, something was pressing up from the inside of my phone, swelling it, now the blurry image was coming out, into the real world, it was the man, the one I had seen when I was thirteen, his face was all blurry, swirling, settling into lines etched across his skin.

"Ack!" I gagged. My throat was collapsing from the inside, something was pressing the muscles firmly shut around my windpipe. I opened my eyes, everything looked normal, the man wasn't here, but my throat was still tight. "Ack! Ack!" I was gagging uncontrollably now, nothing was wrong, nothing was wrong, I told myself, but something was wrong. I could see him now, the man, he was choking me, his hands were around my neck and his thumbs were pressing in on my trachea; his eyes gleamed with delight.

I struggled to breathe. I tired to pull his hands away but he was too strong. Things felt darker, darker, and then I saw the thing, just a swirl, a distorion in space, and I felt the pain coming out of it. The man was here for the thing. He had come to retrieve it.

"Ding Ding Ding," my meditation alarm rung. I was back in the daylight and I could feel my breath, feel it coming back. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the air. The man was gone, but that didn't matter. I had seen him, and I had seen the thing. I knew where it came from. It came from me — it was born out of the swirl of mindstuff that was my consciousness. It had formed in the darkness and grown stronger in these past twenty years. And the man? Well, the man was part of the thing, a manifestation of it. I just didn't know who had sent him.

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