Sister of Night

Most of my life, I've had trouble sleeping.

Insomnia has been a real problem for me since I was in 7th or 8th grade and I have never taken anything for it. I've had times when it seems like Insomnia goes away but then she's always back. There were times in middle school and high school where I would stay up all night several days in a row. I don't think my parents ever knew I had problems sleeping since it always appeared that I went to bed. If they did know, they never said anything to me about it. I don't think they did because I turned out my light at around 9:30, the time they turned their lights out as well.

You and I know that just because the light was out, that didn't mean I was sleeping. I'd get in bed and then, the best part of my "day" began: I'd put on my AM/FM transistor radio headphones and listen to the radio or else I'd pull out a wonderful novel and read. Sometimes I'd do both at the same time. All night.

If it was a purely radio night, I'd turn out my light and I'd stay up listening to talk radio on random AM stations or I'd listen to music on WBMX (now V103), and later, B96. In fact, those late nights of radio were how I first began listening to the Hot Mix 5 and fell in love with house music. Some nights, I'd listen to the "Quiet Storm" on BMX and wonder if I'd ever have someone who would dance to Keith Sweat's "Make It Last Forever" with me.

Other nights, I'd listen to WNUR and I'd hear Depeche Mode on the radio and imagine myself sitting in some club in England, dressed in all black with my hair dyed a nice bright pink, chatting it up with Dave Gahan and writing dark poetry with Martin Gore. I remember hearing 30 seconds of Al B. Sure's song "Nite and Day" back when he'd been chosen as a Sony Innovator in '87 or '88 and the song was part of a Sony commercial. The next day, I went to school and asked folks if they'd heard it and of course they hadn't. Then, a few months later, he was insanely popular. (light skin + good voice = fame in Black America). As a geeky-feeling teenager, it meant something to me that out of everyone I knew, I'd heard him first.

I also loved listening to those late night radio therapist shows...the precursors to Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura. You know, those, "Hi, this is Molly calling from Berwyn and I really have a hard time getting along with my mother-in-law" type shows. And Chicago had it's own sex talk show with a Dr. Ruth type. I can't remember which station it came on or the host's name but I was very curious about the topic. Like many parents, my folks never discussed sex with me. They bought me a of those, "Your Body is Changing" type books and gave it to me to read. This show went quite a bit beyond the info in that book. Quite a bit. So, I took lots of mental notes, filed away for my future reference and, I hoped, my future use. It seemed very dangerous and risque back then, especially to my thirteen year-old never kissed a boy ears, but the questions and answers would probably be considered tame by today's standards.

Of course, it wasn't always a radio night. I usually read one book every day back in those days. I wanted, no, needed to be somewhere else. Another world, another time. Another place. My family went to the library almost every week and I'd drag home a good selection of seven or eight nice, thick, parent-approved titles. I'd choose historical fiction like the The Count of Monte Cristo or Middlemarch, turn the light out and pull the covers over my head. Using a flashlight would not have worked because of the need to replace the batteries. I had my night-light hooked up to an extension cord and so I could just turn it on and read under the covers without being detected. I'd disappear into a world of beautiful ladies and the tall, dark, and handsome heroes who dueled for their honor.

I read almost everything by Thomas Hardy, the Bronte's, George Eliot, and Jane Austen in this way. I read my first Barbara Cartland (The Enchanted Waltz) and Georgette Heyer (The Grand Sophy) novels in this fashion, and thus began my life-long romance with the Regency period. And, if I read a book once, there was no problem re-reading it a few months later while listening to Julian "Jumpin' Perez spin on the radio... Imagine reading The Mayor of Casterbridge while listening to Xavier Gold belting out the classic house tune, "You Used to Hold Me."

Crazy, I know, but after an evening of solitude with my reading or radio, I'd climb out of bed at 5:30 in the morning and get ready for school. I'd go to school, get those good grades, come home, do my homework, help cook dinner, wash dishes, take a bath, and then repeat the same thing over again. Sometimes, when it was bad, I wouldn't sleep for two or three days straight. But usually, 2-4 hours a night would be fine. I did this for years.

I went to college and of course, the culture was one of staying up all night. I fit in perfectly and sought to imbue new life into the concept of pulling an all-nighter. Why stay up all night reading and studying? Sadly enough, I was tired of that sort of thing. I'd barely walked down a street by myself before I went to Northwestern at the grand old age of seventeen. I'd never been to the mall by myself and I'd never chosen my own clothes. I'd been out to eat at a restaurant less than ten times. I was ready to get out into the world, take some risks, make friends and develop myself socially. I wanted to be the opposite of what I had been like in high school and, in retrospect, I can see how my Baha'i beliefs and upbringing really sheltered and protected me when I decided I'd had enough of being sheltered. You see, I had discovered the fun that could be had flirting with boys (and having them flirt back). But mostly, I had discovered the house and techno that was played in clubs and the dancing that accompanied it.

By the end of my sophomore year at Northwestern, I was tired of borrowing people's passports and having bouncers eye me for ten minutes while trying to decide whether or not my face matched the picture. I hated begging them to let me me into a club. I obtained my first fake ID a month after I turned 19 by taking a friend's social security card and gas bill downtown to the State of Illinois building. I was scared but the desire to be guaranteed admission to clubs was far more powerful. My official State of Illinois ID had a name that didn't belong to me but it was my face in the picture and that's all that mattered. So, I began my nights of dancing till four or five in the morning. I'd get to the club around 11 or 12 and then would dance all night. Without sitting down.

Thursday night was KaBoom. This guy I knew from Evanston, Erjan, worked there and took me there one night. He was convinced I'd love it. He was completely right. Maybe he wanted me to like him too...I don't know because I was hypnotized by the bass coming out of the speakers, the entire look of the place...the lights timed with the beat of the music...and it was all about dancing for me. I could have cared less about anybody else in that entire place. I wasn't there to get drunk because I didn't drink and had never had a drink. I wasn't there to get high because drugs kill your soul. I wasn't there to meet a guy because most guys only wanted one thing...and we didn't want the same thing. I only cared about one thing: dancing.

I started out dancing on the floor, but it was too crowded to really move around. Plus, there was the added problem of someone possibly spilling their drink on me and I really really hate the smell of alcohol. (I always have.) Running into someone's cigarette was also a potential problem. Erjan took me into the VIP room and got me a VIP card but it seemed like the focus there was on hook-ups. Not into that at all.

The first time I ever danced on one of those 5'x5' wooden platforms six or seven feet off the floor was one night at KaBoom about two weeks after I started going there. I was annoyed by the two women up on top of it, grinding and humping each other and doing pseudo cheerleading moves, especially since there was lots of space to really move if you wanted to. Erjan dared me to get up on the box and dance like I wanted to instead. I agreed and told him that I'd bet the girls would get down in five minutes. I got up there and danced my butt off and they were really annoyed but it was some of the best music I'd ever heard and there was no way I was going to not dance. I loved going there at the height of the Chicago techno scene in '93 and '94, particularly when Val ("Psycho-Bitch" as she was known back then.) was dj'ing. It was really powerful to see a female dj in such a male dominated scene and she was GOOD!

Friday night was China Club which was probably my least favorite club. It was always too crowded and too commercial and there were too many kids from Schaumburg who'd get stupidly drunk and try to start fights.

Saturday night was Shelter. I have some incredible memories of that place. After KaBoom closed down due to a shooting outside (again, dumb suburban kids trying to be cool), I'd go to Shelter on Thursday night and then again on Saturday night. They had the coolest DJ booth (you had to climb this 20 foot ladder to get up there) and I was in love with John Curley. Shelter was the only club I ever took guys to. I didn't really consider it to be a "date" because I was going to go dancing whether the guy came along or not.

All women test guys to see if they are the right person for them and Shelter was a test of sorts. I'd take someone as if to say, "Hey, this is a side of me. Do you like this side of me? Can your ego handle me taking you to this place and then ignoring you for hours while I go dance up there and look hot for all the world to see?" Gosh, I think I must have thought I was in a movie or something. Really, the whole scene was so unreal, it might as well have been a movie.

The last guy I took to Shelter was Elarryo. He put up with me dressing him up in a "cool" outfit that I thought would look good at the club. I put his dreds into two ponytails. He didn't blink at my outfit although he did just stand there and look mean while I was dancing. So, I felt bad and instead of dancing, I mostly hung out with him in the VIP room and we did a great deal of people watching...he still talks about that evening. (I guess he passed the "test" because I married him---but it was always different with Elarryo because he'd known me for so many years).

After the clubs closed, 4 a.m. on Thursday and Friday and 5 a.m. on Saturday. I didn't want to go home. I wanted to go sit on the beach and watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan. I wanted to go grab breakfast at the old Melrose Diner on Belmont--that old guy worked there late at night and they had the jellybean candy dish at the counter. I liked hanging out at Tempo downtown on Chestnut sometimes too. It was cleaner and the food was better. Sometimes, I wanted to go to the gym and run on a treadmill, even though I'd been dancing for 4 or 5 hours.

Now the years have passed and I don't go out to clubs anymore. But I still read all night. And now I write all night as well. Insomnia creeps in and cloaks me with her familiarity. Last night, Friday night, my sister suggested I take two Tylenol PM since I'd slept a total of fifteen hours between Sunday the 8th and this past Friday. I did take them and it still took me two hours to finally fall asleep. When I did, I had incredibly vivid dreams...the kind of dreams I've only had when I was pregnant, and then only because certain hormones are so strong that they cause them.

They were dreams about going to senior prom with Kayvan Hayati and how I used to write his name over and over again in my notebooks.

Dreams of being seveteen, sitting and talking with Matt Lloyd and slowly realizing, he doesn't really want to just talk to me...and me being completely unsure of what to do with that realization.

Dreams of walking across Northwestern's campus , everything a brilliant, verdant green.

Dreams of dancing in the Rat Trap at Willard Hall.

Dreams of being with all the old crew, Donald Michelin, Elarryo, Jian Khododad, Kelsey Taylor, Kendrick Webb, Arya Czerniejewski, Faith Holmes, Kyle Dickerson, Camille Henderson, Paula Henderson. It's hard to believe that was all sixteen years ago.

Dreams of going to Shelter and playing pool and dancing with Sakib Shirazi.

The dreams were so real...I didn't want to wake up. They felt less like dreams and more like some sort of hallucinations. I was back in those times, back in those heady days of adventure and discovery. And I didn't want to let them go.

I never have really understood why people take drugs or get drunk on a regular basis. Of course, I understand it on one fundamental level, but not on another. I have always wanted to be fully present, fully aware, fully responsible for my actions, no matter what they were. I spent so many years of my life trying to forget things that once I really began to live, once I really began to smile and laugh and cry, not because of choices that had been made for me but because of my own choices, I wanted to remember every moment of it, both the good and the bad. And last night with those dreams, I understood a bit more why people do the things they do...It's so easy live in remember things the way you want to remember them instead of how it may have actually happened.

The more I think about it, my vain imaginings have always taken shape through my obsessions with books, music, and writing. And like an addict, if I don't get my fix...if I don't read, if I don't listen to music, or if I don't write in a day, I go through a form of withdrawl. I feel out of sorts. I'm irritable. Snappish. Bitchy. Unbalanced. My mind starts to catalog all of the things I'm worried about. All of the things I have to do. All of the things I'm afraid of. And Insomnia returns to visit me.

No, I haven't slept tonight.

I did something I didn't want to do today, well, technically I did it see how the days blend together? I can't get it out of my head...and I've written about all these other things before getting to this point. You see, my brother's body arrived from Detroit Sunday afternoon, and I went to see it at the funeral home this past evening. His body is badly decomposed and yet, he was still so handsome...of course, it was him but, it wasn't him. The soul that made my brother who he was, wasn't there. It was only the physical frame that has housed his troubled spirit for so many years.

I didn't want to go view the body. I told my mother I wasn't going to go. I told anyone who called me today that I wasn't going to go. I still went. I suppose my curiosity got the best of me, much as it often does. You see, I didn't want to have the picture of the body in my head. I don't like to put images like that in my psyche, and, given that he shot himself in the head, I wasn't sure I wanted to do this. But I did it.

His body was on a stretcher, covered by a sheet, in a back room of the funeral home. We walked down a hallway and through a door. As we walked, I held onto my niece Cassandra's hand and my Aunt Brenda's hand. My dad walked in front of my mom and I kept wanting to yell out, "Hey, grab mom's hand!"

We stood to the side of the stretcher and Mr. O'Neal, the funeral director pulled the sheet down to uncover the face and neck. I haven't seen my brother since 1996 and there was such a sense of time stopping. I was, in that moment, unaware of anyone else in the room. I found myself focusing on his hair...shorter than I'd ever seen it, slightly graying around the temples. His closed eyes were beginning to sink into their sockets. I could see the back of his head, misshapen now, and all of the huge threads where it had been sewn shut again. I will never forget that. No book I read, no song I listen to, no story I ever write will take away the image of those huge threads.

And I suppose that's the way it should be.


Anonymous said…
The Lord bless you and keep you:

The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you:

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26
audinx said…
awesome. thanks. i learned about your dreams and that was awesome. thanks for sharing

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