What does not kill me makes me sleepy, by John McGauley

There was a time in my life when I thought about sex a lot. Then later another time when I thought a lot about money. Then there was a decade when I thought about both sex and money.

Now I think about my health and my reptile-looking feet and spilling food on my shirt, and getting my day wrapped up by about 8:30 p.m. so I can join my new love — my bed.

“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

”The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,

”Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

”Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

That’s from “MacBeth,” by Billy Shakespeare, which I’ve never actually read, but I think it’s about a king’s shrewish wife and guilt.

At first, I couldn’t decide if I’d write about Shakespeare or sleep. Then I thought: Well, I’ve never really read anything by The Bard, yet I’m on intimate terms with sleep.

Don’t you have rituals before you take to your bed? I’d like to say I do, but I pretty much just quickly strip off my clothes, throw them everywhere, some of them even hitting the wall, and run to the bed. Some people I know lay out their next day’s wardrobe before going to bed! Are you kidding? What a waste of time.

Some people brush their teeth before bed. I think about it, but never do. It just seems so … useless, I’ll brush twice as hard in the morning.

Do you take pills before going to sleep? I pop a few and down them with some stale water that’s been sitting in a glass by my bed for a day or two, or longer. Does water go bad?

You have a nightstand, right? Everybody does. And it contains a lot of the same sort of stuff that’s on the table by your easy chair next to the 110-inch television screen in your living room. Every so often I’m just too lazy to throw away the gum in my mouth, so I ball it up and place it on the nightstand. I’ll put it in the wastebasket tomorrow.

I fight furiously with my lumpy pillow to get it just right, get all nestled in bed, then remember I didn’t lock the door or start the dishwasher or turn off the lights downstairs. Instead of getting up immediately to tend to these things, I debate with myself whether I’ll bother. Eventually I always decide to get up and do whatever I need to do, and then go back to bed.

Then, almost immediately, I think I might have to pee. I debate about this too, thinking maybe I can just get to sleep before the urge overtakes me. But just thinking about having to pee makes you want to pee. I always decide to just get it over with, I call it the “JIC” pee — “just in case” — so I walk to the bathroom.

Then I get back in bed and see a spider on the ceiling. Where did that thing come from? Should I get up and kill it, or let it be, risking the chance that it drops down through the night and crawls into my sleeping mouth? If it does that, would it do me harm, or would I just eat it by reflex, my strong stomach acids negating its venom?

I decide to get up and kill it, but I must look for one of my shoes that I’ve thrown on the other side of the bedroom. I stand up on the bed, shoe in hand, and squash the spider. Then my leg cramps and I almost fall, thinking later that I risked spending six weeks in rehab because I wanted to kill a little spider.

Then there’s not enough blankets on the bed, or too few, and then there’s an agonizing itch in the middle of my back. (I keep a long back-scratcher on the table next to my bed.)

I do sleep well, usually, once all this business is taken care of. I sleep the sleep of the just; after all, I have the strength of 10, for my heart is pure. But many tell me they have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or even sleeping at all. I’ve gone through periods when I’ve had a touch of insomnia, and it’s one of those life experiences that can only be described as “character-building.”

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “was mich nicht umbringt macht mich starker,” which of course makes no sense since it’s in German but translates to “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Nietzsche himself suffered from insomnia — really — which obviously made him a madman, as evidenced by that patently moronic statement. You think I’m kidding? Look up his photo on Google. He’s also got a mustache the size of a cornstalk broom. What is it about all those old crazy German philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Schiller?

This happened not too long ago: It lasted about a week. I awakened each night at exactly 3:33 a.m. I knew that by looking at the digital clock by the bed. That spooked me, thinking it was some sort of message from the spirits. I thought, does it mean something? I then thought, well, it’s not possible for a digital clock — at least none on this earth — to read “666,” the Mark of the Beast, but could it mean something lesser, the “Mark of the Merely Unpleasant?”

I never figured that out, but I did take the opportunity to pee.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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