My parents claim that I was a very good sleeper as a baby. I wonder sometimes if I was just putting on a really good show. I do have a flair for the dramatic and theatrical, so it could be a real possibility.
In all honesty, I cannot recall a time that I sleeping was easy. I can remember lying awake for hours as a child, my mind fixed on the hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep at different times of the night. The running dialogue in my head went something like this:
If I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.
and if I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.
And if I don’t fall asleep immediately, I will be so tired tomorrow.
And so it would continue, my child’s mind worrying ceaselessly until I wore myself out and finally fell asleep.
As a child, if I had a nightmare, I would call out to my parents or sibling. My dad would rise and go into my sibling’s room.
“Marieke had a nightmare,” he would whisper in the dark.
My younger sibling would crawl out of bed and walk down the hallway to my room, blanket held up close to one cheek in a tiny fist, the remainder dragging on the floor behind them. Index and ring fingers from the other hand held steadfast between delicate lips, and a tiny pinky brushed repeatedly in sweeps against their cheek.
Once in my room, they would lie down on the floor beside my bed. Relieved by the presence of family, I would instantly fall asleep. It was years later that my sibling confided in me that they were terrified of the large, wicker bureau in my room and would lie awake, looking up at its towering features in fear until finally the morning light began seeping in.
As an adult, I tend to sleep better with a trusted companion, be it human, canine, or feline, but even then I do not always succeed. My mind can easily become active with even one thought entering the premises. One thought turns to another until I am held captive by a spiraling vortex of images and emotions from past, present, or future.
Most recently, the thoughts that have kept me awake have been from my life in Alaska. I imagine this has to do in part with my recent transition from Lowell, Massachusetts to Prescott, Arizona. Moving reminds me of the circumstances that surrounded my departure from Gustavus, Alaska. It was not a happy uprooting but felt more akin to a fleeing from a prison in the dark of night, hoping to get a headstart on whoever might be following suit.
Well, I did not warn you I had the flare, did I not?
At the time, it felt like I was running for my life. There were a few friends who shared love and laughter and incredible support as I made last minute getaway plans. There were others who were less interested in the details of my departure.
Did I hear a sigh of relief from my supervisor and upper management in my division at work? I have met many people who claim that no one could dislike me, but I will be the first to tell you that this simply is not true.
I can be loving and generous and all heart toward people who embrace me for who I am; but when threatened and made to fit into someone else’s vision of reality, I become defensive and lash out in a desperate attempt to preserve my sense of self.
This is exactly what transpired at my job and with several members of the Gustavus community in Alaska. I have written about it a lot in an attempt to understand my own behaviors and those of others. I do not hold ill will toward anyone because I think we all did our best in difficult times with ways of being and perceiving the world that were at wildly different ends of the spectrum.
I am not a traditional kind of person. I am impulsive and emotional. And my practice, particularly since moving to Alaska and going through a divorce and a doctoral program in sustainability, has been to be as honest about who I am as possible while respecting and honoring other perspectives and ways of being. I do not always succeed in this endeavor, though I would like to think that each situation I move through I learn something and improve.
I was so desperate to maintain a tenuous grasp on what felt like the beginnings of discovering my own self, I cannot claim to have done well with managers at my job who seemed themselves to feel threatened by my journey to sustainability. They did their best to contain my independence and re-assimilate me into the fabric of tradition in small town Alaska where there are many big fishes in little ponds.
I played their game while biding my time and planning my escape.
Suffice it to say that my escape came at a time that has since become dark and painful when it resurfaces from the depths of my memory.
There were beautiful moments and connections with people and place in Alaska, but my leaving was not one of them.
Since leaving my connections with members of the community dwindled to a handful and then fewer people still with the passage of time. It didn’t help that I had two friends vying for the opportunity to rent my home and my choice please some and angered others so much so that my name was slandered around town.
You know that “sticks and stones” phrase they teach children? Well, names do hurt, especially when you are not there to even defend yourself.
Periodically, thoughts of the darker memories from Alaska resurface. They tend to return with the sting of a more recent happening.
This most recent happening has been building for a long time. It came with a simple attempt to “tag” an Alaska friend on a facebook post. Her name did not come up.
“Huh,” I thought. “Must be something weird with my internet connection.”
I went to her profile and saw the option to send her a friend request.
“That’s odd,” I thought again, the stirrings of something deep down beginning to rumble.
I sent her a friend request and sent a short, friendly message inquiring after what could only be a misunderstanding.
Several hours (was it a full day?) later, I received a response, stating without any kind of sugar coating that it did not seem to be worth keeping touch as they had come to realize that our ways of perceiving the world for so very different.
I read the words once, twice, and a third time. Though I was not completely surprised by the response (her previous responses to my emails had become shorter and less personal, until all I received was one-liners), I still felt an emotional punch to the gut.
This person had been like family when I lived in Gustavus, and I had spent many hours with them and their children, in their home, hiking trails, and drinking tea.
In my mind and heart, the message read, “your perspective is one that I disagree with and am disappointed by; thus, you no longer exist to me.”
I had known this would be coming. Gustavus is small community. If you root yourself there and make attempts to belong, people embrace you. If you walk a different path, people shut you out. I had already been shut out at my work and in the music community, where I had long since stopped receiving invitations to play at music nights in people’s homes (yes, that one really hurt and is a story for another time, if at all).
When behaviors run counter, a cognitive dissonance occurs, and one must make a choice. Ignore the new information, find out more and make an informed decision, or find a comfortable way to incorporate it into your worldview.
My friend had made her choice. I had uprooted myself and others had spread word of my deplorable behavior as a landlord. We were different or at least my perceived behaviors were counter to her way of being.
I cannot say that I blame her. I know that I have made mistakes and hurt people’s feelings. Her words still hurt and hit at the part of me that even now feels raw from my time in Alaska.
So each night since that interchange, I fall asleep beginning with thoughts of my former friend. These thoughts spiral into a vortex of negative memories of other ways I felt hurt and abandoned by those who had offered fleeting support and professed to understand what I was going through, only to turn on me and project their unhappiness at my attempts to create my own.
Last night, the pattern began anew once more.
After several minutes of allowing my spirit to become awash in this storm, something clicked.
You do not have to put yourself through this, a voice told me. Haven’t you suffered and repented enough for whatever ills you have caused others and your own self. You are loved. Lowell loves you. Think of Lowell.
And I did. My thoughts turned to images of smiling, loving faces; to brick and mortar; to ghost signs and painted walls.
I felt a calmness begin to sweep away Alaska dust and cobwebs.
Hours later, I woke up to morning light beginning to seep into the room.