Sleep is so boring, and since I was little kid, I always felt I was going to miss something exciting while I snoozed away my life. I blame my parents - hey, who isn't blaming someone else for what ails 'em nowadays? - as they were the most fun, the most relaxed, the most full of love and laughter just after they put us three cherubs to bed. Go figure? What could that possibly mean?
The party always started around nine, after the kids were fed and had run circles around the house. Us, clad in our little one piece jammies with the slick covered feet and bright colored flammable polyester fabric, shuffled off to bed and the dark confines of our rooms. Then the stories and ribald jokes began to float of waves of louder and louder laughter, up the stairwell and through the just-cracked bedroom door. When it was an especially good gathering, the clinks of ice in glasses would compliment the laughs, like a bright ribbon wrapped around a present. The smell of cigarette smoke, when it evoked images of maturity and the mysteries of adulthood instead of cancer and emphysema, would begin to tickle my curious, wondering little mind as I lay wide-eyed and smiling under my covers. I fought sleep like the past-his-prime boxer, slowly succumbing to the relentless onslaught of an unbeatable opponent. Consciousness would leave me, as if I'd been clubbed, me unaware that I'd even left one world for another.
It isn't much different now, for me. True, I'm the now parent and it's my own kids I tuck into bed every night, kissing their brows and thanking a God I don't really believe in for their presence in my life. I love my kids every minute of everyday, often stilled in mid-thought by the miracle they are to me. But I know this best, remember it most poignantly, as I put them into bed. In this moment, between today and tomorrow, feeling the blessing of childhood and the unadulterated power of love a son and daughter has for a father. A father, who may or may not be an idiot, who stills feels like he's a child, who lives an adult life with more than a small measure of nostalgia for a simpler time.
When my kids are asleep - or in my daughter's case, often pretending to be asleep in order to attend to the adult mysteries she should but can't resist - I begin the slow approach to sleep myself. Even though I often go a million miles an hour, I'm usually anything but tired. Perhaps it the momentum of of trying to do twice the amount of thinking, twice the amount of living, twice the amount of remembering, that makes just stopping impossible for me. My body betrays me; my body almost never feels tired. My brain exhausts itself - becoming a racing but idle engine - but it clings to consciousness stubbornly. It wants to find the party, chase the action, watch the next episode, hear the next joke. It - me? - hates the idea that something is going on and I'm not there.
Enter the director. When my smarter self finally buts my dumber self into its place, puts down the book, shuts of the television, and hits the lights, the movies begin. I've trained myself - over decades - to give my brain a little treat, a bow to its base programming. I allow my creativity to ramp up and run a scene from the movie of the life I would live if I were not responsible for anyone or anything. I make myself the director, executive producer, and star of an action movie, where I play the hero, the good guy, the protagonist. To date, I've been the leading man in brain-movies with themes ranging from drug dealing to zombie apocalypses. I've been falsely imprisoned for murder - abandoned by my family - only to lead a daring escape from prison to pursue righteous justice. I've fought corrupt FBI agents, who frame innocent men for crimes they commit. I've landed jumbo jets full of desperate passengers, I've stolen Cessnas and flown to to safety. I've lived on desert islands, with an adoring, beautiful women (when I was younger and single...) and alone (now that I'm married). I've broken into bank vaults, into meth labs, into mansions of serial murders and robber-barrons. I've caught touchdown passes, thrown touchdown passes, run for touchdowns, intercepted and returned the ball for touchdowns. I've hit homeruns and caught game winning flyballs, too, although I can't recall ever casting myself in a soccer game.
As the scene unfolds and refolds, the director calls "Cut!" and "Action!" over and over, trying to get the scene just right. The angle, the lighting, the dialog, the plot - all must be perfect. It can take me weeks, even months, to get one scene just right, months and years to get the whole movie in my head. And just as it was when I was a young boy, no matter how I weave and dodge, sleep always drops the curtain, turns off the lights in my head, sends home the stars and crew. And when the director in my head has done his best work, the real me switches from today to tomorrow without awareness.