Monday, June 8, 2009

I Can Sleep When I'm Dead

My 5-year-old bare feet are planted on the golden-yellow tiles of the kitchen floor. My right hand holds the phone to my ear, and my left hand twirls the spiraling phone cord. My grandmother is on the other end of the line — asking me about my sleeping habits.


When I was a child, I never wanted to sleep. Sometimes I would sneak into the living room at dawn to watch episodes of “Shining Time Station” or “Pappyland” on television. When I would hear my dad getting ready for work, I would rush back to bed to feign sleep or hide under a side table with a floor-length covering in the hallway until he left.


My one condition in choosing a preschool was that it must not have naptime. I hated naps. I struck a deal with my mom before I was in school: I could skip napping if I pretended to sleep until my younger brother actually did fall asleep; then, I could go to my room and pass the time as I pleased.


So my grandmother asks me, “Michelle, why do you never want to sleep?”


I answer that I don’t want to miss anything.


At 5 years old, I didn’t understand the concept of unconsciousness, but I realized life passed by while I slept — and I wanted to witness as much of that life as possible. Basically, I considered myself dead while I slept, which I believed was not conducive to experiencing life.


After a two-week visit to London, I’m tired. All I want is sleep. However, that’s also the last thing I’ll allow myself. Starting off on my Haggis Adventures Tour of Scotland, I promise myself I’ll take advantage of every opportunity the Highlands present me with — even if I have to be sleep deprived.


On night one, I sit perched on a brown leather ottoman, double shot of Smirnoff vodka mixed with cranberry juice in hand, in a dimly lit common room surrounded by a circle of newly met travel companions. They drift in and out, replenishing their drinks and socializing with others in the bar. They occupy other ottomans, a squishy black sofa, navy beanbag chairs and a wooden piano bench with a woven, green seat, all of which line the walls. We’re shooting the bull — telling stories about the first day and our past experiences.


I realize I don’t have much to contribute. I haven’t drunkenly scampered through the forest with my friends in the middle of the night. I haven’t kept watch as my family attempts to dig up pickle jars full of money in the backyard. I haven’t had my body parts almost chopped off by a sword-wielding man in a kilt. So much for not missing anything …


Still, however, I’m sitting in a room with these people with whom I hope I am making a connection. We are a community — if only for a mere five days — and I want to establish a rapport that will allow me to gain the kind of stories I’m convinced I’m lacking. So, as I tiptoe around my dark hostel room, giggling with one of my roommates and trying not to wake the others, I deem the 3 a.m. bedtime entirely worth it.

For night two, a 21st-birthday celebration for another of my roommates begins at midnight. Five others join me in my room, counting down to 12 a.m. after being taken hostage in our water-less hostel by the 11:30 p.m. curfew. A middle-aged Scottish man named Brian crashes the party — and contributes the beer.


He also contributes to the hole in the knee of my jeans, tearing the blue denim fabric three inches above and below the hole instead of across the knee. He tells me to connect the fabric with huge, inch-and-a-half-long safety pins — like ones once used to secure babies’ diapers, I picture — to make it look cool. He also says I should tell people I got the hole falling from rocks giving out beneath my feet while climbing a mountain. Actually, I earned the hole from distractedly tripping off a curb earlier that day.


He offers his torn jeans as an example, with the tear received during the running of the bulls in Barcelona … or drunkenly falling while stumbling back from a Spanish pub in the wee hours of the morning. I’m not sure the running of the bulls is even performed in Barcelona — the most famous version of the event takes place in Pamplona, Spain, at the San Fermin Festival.


I suppose I now have story to tell.


The following night, we continue the birthday celebration at full force. A group of about fifteen of us crowd our chairs around a long wooden table in Saucy Mary’s Bar, which has an all-too-appropriate name. We’re overseen by Drunkenness — a tacky, green stuffed animal whose name is coined from the Nessie fame of Loch Ness. Drunkenness turns out to be a bad influence, as the alcohol flows generously, especially with a £2.50 deal for double-shot mixed drinks.


We decide to give ourselves “-ness” nicknames in the spirit of Drunkenness. I miss this conversation for a bathroom break and return as Clumsiness. Apparently I’m queen of the klutzes — the validity of which I tend to secure daily, as per my torn jeans. Sheep-ness, Neva-neva-ness, Gayness, Love-ness and Hairiness are among our newfound monikers.


A trio plays Celtic music across the room. We have no idea how to dance to Celtic music, so we improvise. We form a group-wide huddle with our arms wrapped around one another for balance and run around in a circle, kicking our feet inward and cheering until we’re overcome with dizziness.


Then, we engage in a game of “Never Have I Ever.” Looking back, I don’t think I understood the goal, since I ended up drinking whenever it was my turn to confess something I had never done — thus, saying I had done it, which isn’t supposed to be the objective. However, everyone cheers for me when I say I have never been drunk before, so I find myself providing entertaining admissions, at least.


At closing time, we depart the pub. Two Aussies and another American join me on the trek to the rooms. We sit in the stairwell, discussing who-knows-what but enjoying the company. Eventually, one Aussie leaves, and I consider how much I need sleep before our 8:45 a.m. departure. Then I think of how I’m sitting in a stairwell in Saucy Mary’s Lodge on the Isle of Skye in Scotland with two interesting travel companions who are more my acquaintances than friends. After the trip, I’ll probably never hear from them again; but the point is that, by some twist of fate, our paths have crossed for five days, and I’d be a fool to give up time with them in lieu of a extra hour of sleep. This is sufficient in eradicating the argument for sleep from my mind, prolonging our stay in the stairwell for a bit longer.


Hostel beds don’t lend themselves to particularly restful nights of sleep, anyway.

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