Vote Charlie!

Here I lie awake

Posted at age 26.
Created . Edited .

It’s late. I have a morning flight. Time for sleep. And I’ve been trying. My friend, the Buddhist, has long been slumbering, but I stayed up catching up on work. Though I wasn’t at my most productive, I wasn’t really sleepy.

He is beside me, facing away. His left arm decided to go adventuring, and it came to rest across my chest. No big deal; it’s nice to be close, even if it wasn’t a conscious choice. I’ll take what I can get, after all.


Look how far I’ve come, and yet my mind still lingers several countries ago. Granted, that means less and less these days. It’s been some time since I heard from my last roommate. I’ll call him Sneaky — he did like that word. It seemed we were getting along so well, but relations decayed, and I tried to ignore it. I shouldn’t be jealous of other guys for being ready and willing to provide that which I will not: devotion, stability, even a nice body, though I try to make an effort. I’ve had pending relocations, some across the world, for years now. Meeting great people is always bittersweet. But my life choices are my own. I shouldn’t complain. To at least cope, it’s been good for me to avoid the Facebook pages of Sneaky and his new guy. This is made easier by never having added the new guy. As for Sneaky, I must admit I removed him on an angry whim, but that’s probably best for my sake.

But now, trying to sleep, I can’t help wondering. Are they still together? Sneaky always tried to downplay their closeness, but the guy’s Instagram often betrayed that story. I’ve been strong, and haven’t been checking. It helps I dramatically deleted my account back when Instagram had a bit of a legalese uproar. But I can still see recent photos via a web browser without an account. So I give in. At first I can’t remember the guy’s handle, but a quick check of his public Facebook posts reveals it. I click, browse, and don’t see anything incriminating in the first set of photos. The guy is a prodigious selfie poster, though, so I really can only see two weeks’ worth. For more, I have to download the app. That would mean creating an account. I refuse.

Now I’m downloading Instagram. I create a new account, but certainly don’t link it to any social accounts. This is just for a use that is private; a one time thing, I hope. I enter my work email, and soon, I’m scrolling through his photos. Sure enough, there are several of the two together, and some even with all Sneaky’s friends, as well. This triggers weaker emotions than it would have before, but I still care, and wish I didn’t. It took a long time for Sneaky to permit me to go out with him and his friends, but the new guy seemed integrated rather quickly. That nagged me so much more than the simple fact Sneaky liked the new guy. But paranoid thoughts are self fulfilling, I know. That’s why I hadn’t been checking.

I wonder how my sleeping Buddhist would handle these emotions. Presumably he is a skilled practitioner of mindfulness and wouldn’t get caught in the traps I do. He might focus on the outcomes of negative thinking rather than brood on the thoughts themselves, convincing himself feeling bad isn’t worth it. For if you can learn negativity hurts you, you won’t be so negative. Something that would once cause deep anger will eventually cause only a fleeting sensation. That’s roughly my understanding, at least. It sounds nice, and I’m sure there’s merit to the method. Even if you argue it’s just a delusion, most of life is a delusion, so you might as well be happy.

He breathes relatively quietly, but not as quietly as I think I do in my sleep. I should know, right? But now the breathing gathers volume. Perhaps the dream is intensifying. What do Buddhists dream about, anyway? I hear a bit of tooth grinding, though it’s somewhat squeaky and not so grating. My host in this country, who is out of town now for spring break, also grinds his teeth in his sleep. But both of them grind less intensely or frequently than my ex. I haven’t thought about that for a while; those nights waking up, or usually, trying to fall asleep in the first place, listening to the wearing down of beautiful incisors and canines. I used to wake him up, or at least turn him, for the sake of those teeth. That was one of my major concerns when we became long distance, and even more so when we finally broke up. Who would protect the teeth? He implored me to wear sunscreen; I pleaded that he always wear his mouth guard. I doubt he does. And I understand. I probably wouldn’t, either.

Now I’m pondering breathing. It’s interesting some people do it so much more loudly than others. Do they just require more air? Smaller tubes? Clogged tubes? I know there are many factors. I assume there are, at least. I’m so confident about the things I think I don’t know. Where’s the modesty in that? So I just take pride in my presumed silent breathing. For someone who often rests in the company of friends, it’s a great attribute. I rarely bother people while unconscious, when I’m not in control. Should I write that in my dating profile? “Hi, I’m Charlie, and I have some great attributes, but they are invisible.” OK, maybe not.

Trying to relax, I focus on my still body. I dwell on my cold fingertips, the stiffness in my sore feet, the pressure of the blanket. My calves are also a bit sore from my Saturday run, but they’ll be OK. I’m lying partially on an electric heating matt, and I periodically toggle the switch. It is supposed to be a range selector, but the Buddhist said it’s cheap, and he might have implied it’s from Asia, and therefore the control is not very precise — basically just hot or off. But it’s fine. I like the heat, though it does distract me from emptying my mind.

No matter. Were it not the heat mat keeping me up, it might be the roommates opening and shutting doors several times an hour. I wonder, is it the Polish gay guys, or the straight Korean guy? Which of them has the boyfriend? Do they all share a room? I know so little about the world.

What I do know is I ate all the chocolate I had sitting next to me by the window. Before he went to sleep, I confidently gave my friend the unfinished bag, telling him to please finish it. He declined to do so immediately, but set it down for later. It’s probably a good thing. Were it in a place I didn’t have to get out of bed to reach, I’d surely have consumed it all by now. I can still feel the residue on my teeth from what I ate earlier, at any rate. Surely adding to it won’t help, but maybe it wouldn’t do much harm, either. The longest journey begins with one step, or one bite of chocolate.

And a dentist visit begins with one scrape of the pick. But if it’s like my last dental encounter, it ends with the feeling of a normally contained part of my body completely exposed, yet refreshed, yet so uncomfortable. I think it was the most thorough cleaning of my life, and while my mouth kind of hurt, it seemed like one of those good pains, like after a long overdue workout. So as not to disrespect that hygienist’s efforts, I make peace with not fetching the remaining chocolate. I’ll probably never see her again, for I sent in the $5 to retrieve my records since I plan to start seeing a dentist in California. Not seeing her again might be all the more reason to take care, though; I resolve to be more vigilant in the future. Perhaps I should brush my teeth. But I’m trying to sleep.

And now I hear a fan noise followed by a spurt of clicks. I know what that is. Well, I think I know. It sounds uncannily like my Drobo back home. It’s a device that holds five hard drives and combines them into one larger drive from the perspective of the computer you plug it into. I’m not sure why mine spins up once in a while even when it’s not plugged into anything, but I’m pretty sure the same thing is going on here. I meant to ask the Buddhist about it earlier, just for curiosity’s sake. I could be wrong.

There are other noises. I can hear cars on the street. It’s not a busy street, certainly not at this hour, but not everyone rests. Once in a while there’s a siren in the distance. I keep thinking about how similar they sound to emergency vehicle sirens in the United States, and how I anticipated the sound to be different based on what I thought I knew of Europe from the limited set of films I’ve seen. An American style siren even blared while I was on a conference call with my boss the other day, and he jokingly asked if I was really in London. I knew he was kidding, but the idea he might have thought I was lying was also a bit persistent in my head. Funny little bugs, ideas are. You can’t always get rid of them, however insignificant they seem.

Now he turns, and suddenly the Buddhist is breathing directly into my ear. I move slightly, still trying not to disturb him. Those first few centimeters of difference between his mouth and my head make a world of difference. Now not so close I feel the warmth of his breath, the volume also is greatly decreased, so again, I try to tune out of this day.

But first, I’m a little cold. The window is closed, but it seems to generate a small current of cool air across my left side. I turn the heat matt back on, and now, again, I rest.

And he continues to turn toward me; a second later, I’m crushed. Most of his body is now lying on most of mine. There are some blankets and pillows in the mix, so it’s not an obnoxiously uncomfortable sleeping position, but I do debate pushing him back. I decide to wait. Perhaps he’ll move; perhaps I’ll like it.

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, part of Azerbaijan. Suddenly the subject matter of my procrastination before bed comes back to me. I’ve been lagging in my Japanese studies on the spaced repetition flash card website I used to use every day. Recently I spent a few good 20 minute spans on it, though. Tonight I did also, but then I started looking into Anki, a similar program that allows people to create their own decks. I thought I might want to start with some basics, just to refresh my memory. Before long, I was downloading not a Japanese deck, but a deck of countries and capitals of the world. I am traveling the world, after all, so I should learn more about it. I began that, and I’ve been learning there are many countries whose names I haven’t seen. After some more research into the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, I found it is an only somewhat recently somewhat sovereign land, so I felt less bad about not having heard of it. Other similar places include Transnistria and Northern Cyprus. And now they are all stuck in my head, so I’m making progress. Just not on the Japanese.

The birds that just began chirping, now that it’s 4:15, remind me of the bird songs flashcard deck I saw when browsing the Anki community selection. At the time, I briefly thought of the billionaire in House of Cards, whose bird watching hobby was featured several times in the show. Maybe there is something deeper to bird watching. It would be cool to be able to identify all the sounds around me, sort of like another sense. Or at least another dimension of the world I can begin to understand. But that could be said of all knowledge, I guess. The only thing I can be truly sure of right now is the singing birds are much more pleasant than the eight hours of bagpipes outside my apartment earlier today.

My mind turns to the countries I’ll be visiting in the coming weeks. And the countries I didn’t think I was going to visit, but then thought I could, but subsequently found out I probably wouldn’t. I was studying a map of Portugal, and noticed Africa is so close. On a whim, I searched for Lisbon to Morocco, and to my delight, I saw it was only a six hour drive and a one hour ferry ride. How exciting! My Lisbon host has a car and said he’d be free on the weekend, so surely he would love to go to Morocco with me. It could be something exciting for both of us. So I brought it up, and he didn’t immediately reject the idea. But later, after some more discussion, it came to my attention that, despite having been to a dozen countries, he doesn’t have a passport. Europe is so strange.

Consequently, my own passport will not need to be renewed for just a little bit longer, since I would likely be staying in Portugal as originally planned. No African nation passport stamps for me. This time, at least. Really, it’s not a big deal. I just got my mind opened a bit to the potential I could visit even more countries than planned. Not totally let down, I started looking for other possible bonus countries. San Marino is not horrendously far from Rome, so maybe I could make it there on the weekend. The Vatican, also, is obviously close to where I’ll be. They don’t stamp passports, but it still counts for my pride.

Is it the soda keeping me up? Yes, the bottle was large, but I didn’t drink it all. Only most of it. I also napped earlier, so I’m sure that doesn’t help. But the real culprit must be jet lag, I decide. I’ve been here a week, and I travel frequently without issue, but I’m sure that’s it. Yes.

Maybe my body will derive some benefit from this, even if I don’t actually sleep. My recent revelation thanks to my Fitbit that my heart rate drops to almost 40 beats per minute when I sleep makes me wonder if the sleep state is really just a continuum of heart rate. Now that’s silly, I know, but restive me will grab at any hope I won’t be dead tired tomorrow.

My friend rolls back off me now, but before long, he is back. So is his hand. And so is the tooth grinding, but it’s still gentle and infrequent. Not bad enough I should alert him, I guess. His leg now lies across the edge of my pelvis and my crotch. I feel close, though, so it’s all right. I think about how in a few hours I will have left him, possibly never to see him again. I think about the painting he is supposedly working on in the corner of the room, and wonder how much of this experience I’ll remember. I think about capturing a photograph of his room. It’s dark, but maybe I can brace the camera against the wall and get a sharp but long exposure. I’d have to fetch my camera, and move the Buddhist. I decide it’s probably too dark, anyway. The autofocus assist beam would surely wake him if the movement didn’t, and I didn’t want to be rude.

The hand moves a bit, touching my thigh. I’m fairly certain he is asleep and doesn’t realize he is somewhat erotically rubbing my inner thigh, but still, I don’t move. It’s a small adventure. What will happen next? What should I do? It’s of course not a big deal; not like it used to be. Once upon a time in Boy Scouts or something, such a thing would have had much more dire consequences. If you were found to be touching someone, that could have been social death. If you were on the receiving end, and enjoyed it, it may not be so disastrous, but would certainly add much complexity to those innocent, assumed to be straight, relationships. Even in college, even sleeping next to people you knew to be gay, there were boundaries. Sleeping with someone didn’t mean a hookup then. There was still a thrill to be had with exploring ever so incrementally. It’s not quite the same now. But it’s still something.

I really do need to get some sleep though, so I relax again, and magically, I doze off for a while.

My eyes open to realize the light hadn’t changed much, so I must not have been asleep long, but I recalled a strange, short dream. I was in a dark garage, possibly my mom’s, meeting an old grandmother off Craigslist. No, I’m not talking about the personals section. I was selling something. Something electronic. But I’m not sure what it was exactly. I’m also not sure how she ended up next to me in a pitch black garage, but I turned toward her and felt her hands reach up to me, her fingers trying to explore the contours of my face. I felt a distinct fear she was about to try to kiss me, or worse, and I desperately reached for the light switch. But I didn’t have much confidence I knew where it was. Thankfully, my friend moved his hand away from my crotch, which woke me up before anything further happened. Is there some connection between the Buddhist’s hand and not kissing the grandma? I hope not, but I wouldn’t put it past me. My thoughts couldn’t linger there long, though, for I felt something on my face. Dust? A spider? I didn’t hesitate this time to break my stillness, and I quickly swatted away whatever tingled my cheek. Now I’ll never know what it was. I could have died.

But with the slight burst of confidence from that tiny adrenaline release, I took a deep breath and rolled over, and soon it was me sleeping partly on top of my friend.