by Kelly Lynn Thomas
Insomnia Is My First, Middle, and Last Name
March 21, 5:13 a.m.
I have tried every sleep aid on the market. I have tried every brand of recliner commercially available within the past fifty years. I have tried leaving the vacuum cleaner on next to me. I have tried white noise machines and Yanni and yoga and homeopathic massagers and even stuffing vibrators under the cushions. None of it works. Not a goddamn thing.
I can only sleep on airplanes.
It’s something about the motion, almost imperceptible, and the deep rumble from the engines that makes every cell in your body hum along with them. My doctors say there’s nothing wrong with me, and my shrink says it’s all in my head, that I’m doing this to myself, but if that’s true, then why, when I sleep on planes, do I only dream about flying? There’s never anything else around me. No metal, no engines, no seats, no clothes. Just me in the sky. I can’t even see the earth down below.
Sometimes in these dreams I see the northern lights. I’ve never seen them in person, despite having been far enough north more times than I can count. But in my dreams, I can reach out and touch them. They feel like spring blooming into summer.
So tell me how something that beautiful can only be in my head?
At work, toward the end of the week when I haven’t slept in three or four days, my mind wanders. I wonder what last-minute, cheap flight I’ll snag Friday night, wonder if the plane’s course will determine what kind of things I might see in the sky. I read about the earth’s magnetic field on Wikipedia, even though I’ve read the article twenty million fucking times, and try to formulate a theory about magnets and lights and dreams, but it always falls apart just as I start to reach some kind of epiphany.
But that’s what life as an insomniac is like. You think you’re about to reach something, to have some kind of breakthrough, only to have it crumble in your hands and run through your fingers like so much dirty water.
LAX to LHR, or What I Take When I Fly
March 22, 7 p.m.
United Airlines Flight 934
Los Angeles International Airport to Heathrow International Airport
Depart: March 22, 7:55 p.m.
Arrive: March 23, 1:25 p.m.
Total Travel Time: 10 hours, 30 minutes (nonstop)
Have you ever seen that show Lost? It’s been over for a few years, so this doesn’t count as a spoiler. You know how Jack develops a death wish and flies every weekend using the golden pass Oceanic gives him? That’s me, Suzie Lightning. Just replace “death wish” with “sleep wish.”
(If any airlines reading this would like to give me a golden pass in exchange for free graphic design work or publicity or something, I’m all ears.)
I was always fascinated with what the characters had with them when they crashed: portable CD players, Advil, extra pairs of shoes, loads of emotional baggage. I imagined the creators of the show racking their brains about every trip they ever took, interviewing their friends all like, “Give me a list of every item you took with you the last time you flew across the ocean.” But it was even more fascinating the second time they crashed. I can’t believe no one wore hiking boots onto the plane. Jack wore a fucking suit, like a douchebag.
Because I travel so much, I have a backpack ready with my plane gear. It includes two changes of clothes, an inflatable neck pillow, a squishable regular pillow, a fleece blanket, a small roll of duct tape, ear plugs, eye mask, and my iPad. I also carry a small Bath and Body Works toiletry kit my mother insisted on getting me for Christmas last year. It’s white tea jasmine scented and smells pretty good. I was skeptical of its usefulness because those prepackaged things always leak or break, but this sucker has body wash, shampoo, lotion, and one of those tiny bath scrunchy things. And it had room for my other toiletries: my deodorant, folding toothbrush, toothpaste, and nail clippers. This counts as the first useful present my mother has ever given me—not that it makes up for all the other horrible shit she’s said and done.
Speaking of my mother, I don’t listen to music while I’m sleeping because I usually pass out as soon as the plane takes off, but I think I’m going to need music to relax after the twenty minutes she spent yelling at me for “wasting my life” on “this crazy nonsense.” She then threatened to have me committed to a psych hospital if I didn’t get help, as if I’m not already trying to get help, as if I haven’t already tried everything the doctors have suggested. She seems to think I want to spend all my money on flights instead of, as she put it, “saving for my wedding and a house.” I don’t want the responsibility of a house. And I sure as hell don’t ever want to get married. Look what happened to her and my father—divorced when I was five, haven’t spoken since. No thanks.
Anyway, I travel light because I’m not going anywhere, it makes going through security easier, I don’t need to use the overheads, and I don’t have a lot of stuff to begin with. My life is already complicated. I don’t need to make it worse with a bunch of extra shit.
The Cruel Hours
March 28, 3:23 a.m.
The hours between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. are the hardest to get through. I usually have a pot of coffee around midnight and then another around 3, but it depends on how much work I have. Lately I’ve gotten a ton of freelance work, and I’ve been working on some comic books, so I’ve been drinking about three pots a night and another one during the day. My doctors think that may have something to do with my insomnia.
It started when I was a kid. My mom always had trouble putting me to sleep. She had to rock me constantly. Then my parents found out the stroller would put me to sleep, but then that stopped working so they used the car. In high school, I was a wreck. I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep for anything. My parents took me to a million doctors, and I took a million different sleeping pills, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and some other shit. And then the Spanish club took a trip to Mexico over spring break, and I fell asleep on the plane ride to Cancún and slept the whole way.
Right now I should be working on my comic book, or freelance work, or something, anything. I’m trying to figure out how to compose the scene where the girl who’s been sleeping for years and years finally wakes up and walks out into her village and everyone thinks she’s a ghost.
But I can’t think. My “boyfriend” is spending the night, and I can hear him breathing on the futon. In, out. In, out. In, out. I sketched him sleeping, bathed in the glow from my drawing table. He’s beautiful, and vulnerable, stretched out naked on his back. The sound of his breathing fills the room. It’s all I can think about. His breathing. Sleep.
He never spends the night. He doesn’t want to “tease” me, he says. I wonder if that’s true, or if he can’t stand the thought of being alone in my bed. I think about lying down next to him. But I’d wake him. And he’ll wake up on his own soon enough.
SYD to LAX, or What Just Happened?
April 1, 1 p.m.
United Flight 840
Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
Depart: April 1, 1:50 p.m.
Arrive: April 1, 10:15 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 13 hours, 25 minutes (nonstop)
I was sitting next to an Australian on the plane to Sydney. When I woke up as we were getting ready to land, he asked me how I could manage to sleep for fourteen hours straight. I said, “It happens when you haven’t slept in ninety-six hours.”
He looked at me like he couldn’t tell if I was joking or not (I wasn’t), but then we started talking. He’s from Sydney, so I asked him what I could do in five hours in the city. The conversation went something like this:
Him: Sydney not good enough for you?
Me: (After considering whether or not I should lie) I’m flying back to LA at 1:50 this afternoon.
Him: (Looking at me like I might be crazy) Are you crazy?
Me: I can only sleep on airplanes. It’s this thing I have.
Him: Like a compulsion?
Me: Sure, something like that.
Him: Up for a little breakfast, then? I could show you around. Since you’ve only got five hours.
This has never happened to me before. People assume I take a sleeping pill or a tranquilizer, or they don’t talk to me, or they hit on me. I’ve turned down lots of requests for airplane bathroom sex. But no one has ever asked me out to breakfast because I’m crazy and fucked up and broken. Not even my boyfriend. Sorry, my “boyfriend.”
The Australian took me to the Aria Restaurant by the Sydney Opera House, and then we toured the botanical gardens and took a boat ride in the bay. He drove me around the city for an hour, and we ate Vegemite sandwiches (nasty, by the way) for lunch on the beach before he took me back to the airport. He asked if I’d be in Sydney next weekend; I said maybe. I won’t be. I won’t get this flight again for a while. It’s one of the rare ones.
I feel wired. Usually, even after a long flight and a good sleep, that feeling of exhaustion hangs around like it’s a disease in my bone marrow. I feel sluggish until I get some coffee in me. My body has gotten used to this feast/famine cycle and gets greedy about sleep when it can get it. But now, now I feel like I could run a marathon and still have enough energy left to climb a mountain.
I gave the Australian my Skype username and told him it would work out perfect for us to chat because I’m an insomniac and while it’s nighttime in LA it’s daytime in Sydney. I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I said that.
Jesus Christ, what the fuck am I doing?
LAX to SVO, layover in JFK
April 7, 3:12 p.m.
Delta Flight 2106
Los Angeles International Airport to JFK International Airport
Depart: April 6, 11:30 a.m.
Arrive: April 7, 7:45 a.m.
Delta Flight 30
JFK International Airport to Moscow, Russia
Depart: April 7, 4:10 p.m.
Arrive: April 8, 9:55 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 23 hours (1 layover)
I got my job to pay for part of this flight because we had some business in NYC and I had an eight-hour layover. Managed to land a new client over lunch in Times Square (thank God that bill gets paid by the company, jesuuus). Picked up some indie comics at a shop in Manhattan, started reading them while I waited for the best part of this deal, the nine-hour flight to Moscow. One is about a superhero who fights crime with his dreams. I have a soft spot for superhero books. Wonder Woman has always been my favorite. I still collect her title every month. Otherwise, I buy trade paperbacks. They’re cheaper, they don’t have ads, and they look nice on your bookshelf. But Wonder Woman, I gotta have it every month.
Onto the juicy stuff, since I am sure what you’re wondering is, “Did you Skype with the Australian?!” The answer is no. I didn’t get on Skype once this week. Instead, I drank twice as much coffee as usual and “finished” the comic book I’m working on. Still have to make a few revisions and color the goddamn thing. It’s 154 pages long. I guess some people would call it a graphic novel, but it sounds so promotional.
I was scared to get on Skype. I was afraid I’d actually have to talk to the Australian. That’s fucked up, right? But my life is already so fucked up. And my boyfriend picked me up at the airport. He never does shit like that. I always take the bus. It made me feel like, like he cares. Like it’s not just about the sex. And then, of course, I felt guilty about the whole Australian thing.
At my therapy appointment this week (totally ran into a Delta pilot!), we talked about reasons I might not be able to sleep like a normal person (again). Aside from the insane amounts of coffee I drink. My therapist wants me to consider the following theory: I can’t sleep because I’ve constructed this crazy identity of only sleeping on airplanes, and now I’m even blogging about it and writing comic books about it, and if I started sleeping normally, I’d be lost. And I might have to gasp, (gasp his, not mine) commit to a relationship or something. Right now, it’s easy for me to say, “Sure, we can fuck whenever, but we can’t ever get married or whatever because I’m a total basket case.”
But I’ve always had trouble sleeping. Something’s wrong with my brain. Or my nervous system. I’ve done a few sleep studies, but they’ve all been inconclusive because I’ve never slept for any of them. I didn’t ask for this identity. This blog isn’t some publicity stunt. You don’t even know my book’s title, or hardly even what it’s about. You don’t know what I look like or have a link to my Facebook page. You don’t even know if Suzie Lightning is my real name. I’m just letting off some steam here, giving myself something creative to do.
April 12, 5 a.m.
i’m on my ninth cup of coffee and when I close my eyes i see clouds in a dark purple sky, but i know that’s not right, it can’t be right. the sky is blue, yes, it’s blue, i know it’s blue. I have to go to work in two hours but i can hardly stand up i can hardly lift the coffee mug to my mouth i can hardly keep my fingers on the keyboard how can i draw?
i called my boyfriend but he didn’t answer so i called again and he yelled at me for waking him but i don’t know if he was really awake or not why was he yelling at me i needed someone to talk to i need someone to take me to work i can’t get there on my own i can’t i can’t i can’t.
i never call off but if i do now they might not let me keep my schedule and my schedule is the only thing that keeps me sane, but i’m not even sane right now so what does it matter. but if i lose my job i won’t be able to fly anywhere, i won’t be able to sleep, i will go crazy for real and they’ll lock me up, my mother will, i know she will she’s threatened to do it before. my hands are shaking so bad i can only type with one finger.
he called me back and said sorry, he’s coming over now he’s scared. i’m scared too. i’m always scared. can’t too much caffeine make you go blind? i think i read that somewhere. maybe if i go blind i will be able to sleep. maybe if i go blind they will let me board the plane first. pre-boarding.
my therapist always tells me every week my lifestyle is not sustainable. not sus tain ab le. but i’m fine. i will be fine.
LAX to NRT (Tokyo, Japan)
April 13, 2:13 p.m.
Nonstop Singapore Airlines Flight 11
Los Angeles International Airport to Tokyo Narita Airport
Depart: April 13, 3:45 p.m.
Arrive: April 14, 7:15 p.m.
Total Travel Time: 13 hours 30 minutes (nonstop)
I’ve been waiting for this plane for hours. I came to the airport as soon as I could. I had to get away from my boyfriend; he wanted to take me to the hospital. My whole body is shaking but I told him it’s just the caffeine, I just need to get on this flight so I can sleep, I’m fine, stop worrying, you worry too much, I don’t want you or anyone else worrying about me. I just need to board the plane, and I’ll be fine.
Somehow, I made it through work. My boss almost told me to go home but I convinced him I was fine. I just had to read all my email drafts extra carefully to make sure there weren’t any errors. Thank God for spell check, right? I’m working on a big project right now, for a really big client. I think my boss was afraid I would fuck it up, but I’ve never fucked up a job at that company, not really bad, and I’m not going to start now. I take my work seriously.
I don’t care if I work in graphic design, I’m still a fucking artist, no matter what anyone says. The term “graphic designer” is a bullshit term. I’m not making a line of fucking fashion dresses. I’m taking your brand and turning it into a visual statement: You know, art. That’s what art is, motherfuckers. For that matter, the term “brand” is a bullshit term, too. It’s just a persona for companies. Masks, lies, whatever. God fucking damn.
For a second, waiting in the terminal, I almost thought I could sleep. I stretched out across four chairs and rested my head on my well-worn Marmot backpack and closed my eyes and . . . almost. But I could still hear all the businessmen talking on their cell phones and the children screaming in delight or anger or whatever it is children scream about. When I looked at my watch only a few minutes had passed, so I know I didn’t fall asleep. At least I can say I tried.
Everyone always thinks bad things happen on Friday the 13th, but I think it’s a lucky day. Let’s see what happens.
NRT to LAX, or Lucky
April 15, 7:16 p.m.
Nonstop Singapore Airlines Flight 12
Tokyo Narita Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
Depart: April 15, 7:15 p.m.
Arrive: April 15, 1:30 p.m.
Total Travel Time: 12 hours 15 minutes
Turns out Friday the 13th really IS a lucky day. Guess who was on my flight to Tokyo? That’s right, the Australian. I know, I didn’t believe it either. He’s apparently in Los Angeles a lot for his job (he’s some kind of consultant, I don’t understand and frankly don’t care). He has some clients in Asia and all around the world, so he was flying from LA to Tokyo. I had about a day in Tokyo so he let me stay with him in his hotel (!!).
To answer your first question: No, my boyfriend doesn’t know about this blog. To answer your second question: Yes, multiple times. I didn’t see much of Tokyo, but that’s okay. I did some midnight wandering in Harajuku with my sketchbook in hand while the Australian slept. I was surprised how much was still open and how many people were still out. I mean, I guess it was Saturday night, so. It makes sense. I got a lot of ideas for comic book characters or at least comic book character outfits. I bought some cute stationery with little black and white bear-looking animals. For responding to my eventual fan mail. Yeah, right. More like writing notes to myself.
We got breakfast at a noodle stand by the hotel and then wandered around a little and then he had a meeting and then we spent the rest of the time in the hotel and then he took me to the airport after asking me to stay, which throws up a red flag, like come on dude, I have a job I have to go to on Monday morning.
It was kind of awkward when he asked me why I hadn’t been on Skype after I told him I was on Skype all the time, but then I told him about my pseudo breakdown, and he seemed concerned and asked for my actual phone number. He has an international calling plan because of his job. I gave it to him, but I don’t know how I feel about it. I mean, if he ever comes to LA, things could get kind of weird. It’s cool to run into someone and have wild and crazy, desperate sex in a Tokyo hotel room every now and then, but meeting with them regularly? That kinda shit scares the mother-loving Christ out of me.
So now you’re wondering why I have a boyfriend. I should be calling him my “boyfriend,” but putting quotes around that word every single time I type it gets tiring. He sees other chicks sometimes, so it’s not like I can’t occasionally have wild romps with people I meet on airplanes. But no, I’m not going to tell him about it. It sounds like I’m justifying it, doesn’t it? Too goddamned bad. My flight is boarding.
LAX to PEK, or Time Travel
April 21, 11 p.m.
Asiana Airlines Flight 203 / 331
Los Angeles International Airport to Beijing Capital Airport
Depart: April 21, 12:20 a.m.
Arrive: April 22, 09:40 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 14 hours, 40 minutes (1 layover)
Asiana Airlines Flight 332 / 202
Beijing Capital Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
Depart: April 22, 10:40 a.m.
Arrive: April 22, 11:30 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 13 hours 20 minutes (layover)
The International Date Line will drive you crazy. Like, if you cross it, the date changes, and it’s the future. Or the past. You can leave a place at one time and land in another place before you left the first place. But for you, time continues to pass at a normal speed. Sixty minutes still take sixty minutes to pass. Scientists say time travel isn’t possible, but it must be. We’re already doing it.
This flight is going to be crazy. I only have an hour to go through security in China and get back on the plane to come home. I’ve never cut it that close before, but I’m looking forward to all that sleeping. I convinced the Asiana Airlines people to give me all four of my boarding passes already. I don’t usually fly with them, so they were reticent, but I ran into a TSA guy I know and he vouched for me.
I’ve never been stressed about flying before. It’s a strange feeling. Normally this is the only non-stressful time I get. There’s something relaxing about the process. The energy at airports is always crazy; everyone is rushing everywhere and going insane, running to catch flights because they didn’t give themselves enough time to get stopped and searched, or to wait in the long-ass security line or whatever, and their kids are going nuts because they’re bored out of their fucking minds, etc. And the poor TSA guys, they have to put up with this every day. No wonder half of them are in therapy.
But I love the routine. There’s something calming in the center of all that psychotic energy, something calming inside the worst of what America becomes at its darkest moments, like the eye of a hurricane. It swirls around and around me, tearing people up and blowing them away and ripping the roofs off houses, but there I stand, eyes closed, breathing deeply, in, out, in, out.
I can go through security at LAX with my eyes closed. I’ve tried it, to see what would happen. I know that place so well I don’t need to see it. I can feel my way through. And I don’t mean with hands outstretched. I can feel its heartbeat, its pulse. Shoes and jacket come off and go into a bin. IPad and liquids in their quart-sized Ziploc come out of bag and go into another bin. I take eight steps forward into the human-body scanner and spread my feet out and put my hands above my head in a triangle. The machine makes a noise like a spaceship just starting to think about takeoff, and it’s done. Another three steps and I grab my bag, then the iPad and liquids go back in, then I grab the jacket and shoes, and step aside to put them back on. I usually wear slip-on shoes of some kind so it’s one, two, done. And then I’m gone.
Today I was nervous, just a little bit. Like the second or third day at a new job. Butterflies in the stomach, hands a little shaky (and not from caffeine, this time), palms a little sweaty. The TSA agent checking IDs, one I haven’t seen in a few months because he’s been on rotation in another terminal, couldn’t even cheer me up with a few jokes.
“First-time flyer?” he asked, huge grin on his face.
“Hah!” I said. But I didn’t believe it.
“Now that’s a name right there. Suzie Lightning. I’d better make sure you’re not on the Do Not Fly List, Suzie Lightning.”
They aren’t supposed to joke about that, but they do, sometimes. Everyone here calls me by my full name. Suzie Lightning. Never Suzie, or Suze, or even Suzie Q, which was an annoying nickname I had in high school and which still comes up with surprising frequency. I think they still don’t believe I’m real, even though I’m here every single weekend. They think they’re all hallucinating me together. I can see it in their eyes, even when I run into them at the therapist’s office.
When I stepped up to the conveyor belt, he said, “Sleep tight, Suzie Lightning.”
A Girl from Earth
April 23, 10:31 a.m.
Yesterday, I traveled back in time. My boyfriend picked me up at the airport when I arrived in the past. He had flowers and a box of chocolates, and wanted to take me out to breakfast, to fucking Mel’s Diner of all places. Sometimes I think he’s a tourist, even though he’s lived here since he was a teenager. “I like their pancakes,” he says, every time he wants to go there, like he’s apologizing. It’s kind of cute. I guess they do have decent pancakes. And watching the tourists freak out about being there is amusing.
But it’s over. I’m going to break things off tonight, or tomorrow, or at the end of this week. Sometime before my next flight. Before the sleep deprivation gets too bad and I start acting crazy, so he can’t shake it off as lack of sleep.
When I landed, the first thing he said to me was, “My alien princess has landed.” I think that sums up my life pretty well. He said it like he found it endearing, but I could hear the hurt and the longing buried deep in his voice. Like he wishes I could just be a girl from Earth. But I’m not.
LAX to SYD
April 26, 9:30 p.m.
Air New Zealand Flight 9839
Los Angeles International Airport to Sydney International (Kingsford Smith) Airport
Departs: April 26, 9:45 p.m.
Arrives: April 28, 6:10 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 15 hours, 25 minutes (nonstop)
Breaking up with him wasn’t pretty. I almost cracked. But in a twisted way, I love the way his face looks when he cries. So I drew him, and that kept me strong. He thought, of course, I was being heartless and cruel. But you do what you have to.
After he left, I cried. And then I sent an email to the Australian and told him I might be in Sydney this weekend. I called in a favor with one of the flight attendants and got a free ticket on her buddy pass. I’m hoping a weekend of mindless fucking will make me feel better.
SYD to LAX, or Why Does This Shit Happen to Me?
April 29, 2:07 p.m.
Air New Zealand Flight 718
Sydney International (Kingsford Smith) Airport to Auckland International Airport
Departs: April 29, 3:30 p.m.
Arrives: April 29, 8:35 p.m.
Total Travel Time: 3 hours, 5 minutes (nonstop)
Air New Zealand Flight 2
Auckland International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
Departs: April 29, 9:30 p.m.
Arrives: April 29, 2:45 p.m.
Total Travel Time: 12 hours, 15 minutes
I got an email from my boss while in Sydney. Actually, while the Australian was in me, but you probably didn’t care to know that. He’s leaving our firm for a position in New York City. He said the higher ups are looking for a replacement, but whoever it is may not be as flexible as he was concerning my schedule. But he’ll do his best to explain the situation and put in a good word for me. Fuck. Just fuck.
You know what else happened? The Australian proposed. He fucking asked me to fucking marry him. Are you fucking kidding me? I told him I’d think about it so he’d keep fucking me, but god fucking damn. My life is fucking falling apart, and I called my mom, and all she said was, “I told you so.”
Jesus. At least I’ve been sending my comic book out to a few indie publishers every couple of days. No hits yet, but we’ll see.
Motherfucker. Goddamn. Shit. Sometimes cursing just makes you feel better, you know?
LAX to JNB (Johannesburg, South Africa)
May 4, 11:01 p.m.
Virgin America Flight 420
Los Angeles International Airport to John F Kennedy International Airport
Departs: May 4, 11:45 p.m.
Arrives: May 5, 7:59 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 5 hours, 14 minutes (nonstop)
South African Airways Flight 204
John F Kennedy International Airport to OR Tambo International Airport
Departs: May 5, 11:15 a.m.
Arrives: May 6, 8:05 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 14 hours, 50 minutes (nonstop)
With this new boss, who doesn’t seem to like me much, I may not have three-day weekends for much longer, so I’m going to take advantage of them while I can. I think it will be okay if they take that away. There are enough flights that leave Saturday morning and then Sunday morning in whatever place I’m flying to that I can make it work. Maybe I can even have like, a regular flight. Or a regular couple of flights. Wouldn’t that be something.
JNB to LAX, or Maybe I’m Glad This Shit Happens to Me
May 7, 11:13 a.m.
South African Airways Flight 203
OR Tambo International Airport to John F Kennedy International Airport
Departs: May 6, 8:25 p.m.
Arrives: May 7, 6:40 a.m.
Total Travel Time: 16 hours, 15 minutes
South African Airways (operated by United Airlines) Flight 7460
From John F Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
Departs: May 7, 8:30 a.m.
Arrives: May 7, 11:40 a.m.
Total Travel time: 6 hours, 10 minutes
While I was asleep on the plane to Africa, a publisher contacted me about my comic book. I can’t believe it. I read the email twenty times over but I still can’t believe it. They sent me an offer.
The craziest part is that the timestamp on the email is for about twelve minutes after the plane took off. Right about when I fell asleep. Because for some fucking crazy reason, I had trouble falling asleep on that goddamned airplane. Not a lot. Just . . . I don’t know. Something was tugging at the edges of my brain. Work anxiety, I guess.
But what a fucking crazy coincidence. The comic publisher sends me an offer at approximately the same fucking moment I fall asleep, for a comic book about a girl who can’t wake up. Fucking crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy.
So crazy I almost called my ex to tell him the news. But it would have been the middle of the night or something, I don’t know. Fucking International Date Line. So I drank some shitty airport coffee and ate some weird airport food and read that email over and over again.
I keep pausing while writing this blog post to read the email again, because I still don’t believe it’s real. I’m afraid to respond to it, like that will make it disappear. Or like they will tell me they made a mistake or were playing a cruel joke on me.
It’s fucking crazy! I mean, I flew to Africa this weekend, and the comic is set in Africa! How fucking crazy is that!
Focus on the Good Stuff, Suzie
May 8, 10:15 p.m.
I finally got up the nerve to call that publisher back. They were nice and easy to talk to and they went over the basics of the contract with me. They are a pretty small place (no DC Comics, but that’s a good thing, I think) so it sounds like the contract is balanced. You know, like not too heavily weighted in their favor or anything. But they still suggested I get a lawyer to look it over. So I guess I can do that.
I had to block the Australian on Skype and set my phone to ignore his calls. He won’t stop calling me. He’s turned into a psycho drama head case. I mean, I know I’m hot and all, but seriously. We live on different continents. That shit would not work out. And anyway, I’m getting my first comic book published and I want to focus on that. I mean, this has been my dream since I was a little girl, you know? I don’t need some crazy (albeit totally sexy) dude who’s obsessed with me throwing me off my game. I also just don’t know how many other ways there are to say “no” aside from, well, “no” (and “fuck no”).
Things aren’t looking so hot on the work front, either. The new boss called me in for a meeting today. He said he wanted to know why I only completed projects Monday through Wednesday and why it took me so long to respond to emails. I explained the issue, that I’m an insomniac and I can literally only sleep on airplanes, so by the end of the week I’m tired.
He looked at me like I was fucking nuts, or like I was just a fucking liar. Like my old boss and I were playing some ridiculous practical joke on him. He said it wasn’t professional to only respond to emails at the end of the week. I told him it’s not strictly true that I only respond to emails at the end of the week, because I do a lot of work from home, and that often involves responding to emails. I also explained that I answer email on the weekends from airports. He seemed unimpressed.
I’m only getting a one thousand dollar advance from this comic book deal. If I lose my job I’m fucked.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
May 11, 11:11 p.m.
I couldn’t get a flight this weekend. Everything was booked fucking solid. I tried every single fucking airline. This has never, ever happened before.
It’s a full moon tonight. I wonder if everyone in LA felt the urge to get the hell out. Maybe there’s going to be an earthquake. Maybe it’s going to be the one that breaks California off from the rest of the country. The fucking apocalypse, and I’m going to be stuck here, drowning.
I Take It Back; Why Does This Shit Happen to Me?
May 28, 4:34 p.m.
I’ve been fucking locked up in the fucking loony bin for two weeks. At some point during that weekend when I couldn’t catch a flight, I must have lost it for real because I called my ex. He called my mother and they took me to the ER and the doctors sedated the shit out of me for twenty-four fucking hours with some kinda serious shit, but when I woke up, I still felt tired and crazy, so they committed me.
To say the least, I’m pissed off.
Two weeks of shrinks and group therapy and NO SLEEP. They gave me the strongest sleeping pills they had, but they didn’t fucking work, so I got crazier and crazier. I started hallucinating. I don’t remember much, but at one point they took me back to the hospital and sedated the shit out of me again.
They did a bunch of tests: MRI, CT, blood work, EKG, everything. They found nothing. So they shipped me back to the loony bin for more fucking group therapy.
The doctor told me I wouldn’t get better if I kept my “fuck you” attitude but I laughed in his face. You think I want to stay awake for weeks on end? Spend all my money on plane tickets and not even see the places I fly to?
Fuck no. I want to draw comics. Which I did while locked up. They encourage art in those places. Whatever. Works for me.
So finally, the doctor admitted I wasn’t crazy, I just needed sleep—real sleep. He prescribed some of the shit they gave me at the hospital and gave me a list of good sleep habits to follow—like go to bed at the same time every night, don’t watch TV in bed, no caffeine eight hours before bed, etc. So I’m going to start off taking a high dose of this sedative for one week, then a lower dose for one week, etc., until theoretically I can sleep without it.
I have no choice but to try, because guess what? Being out of work for two weeks lost me my fucking job. Apparently, no one thought to, I don’t know, CALL THEM for me.
So. Pissed. Off.
Four AM (Of Course I’m Awake)
May 29, 4 a.m.
I’ve been up all night, looking at flights. Isn’t it amazing how you can fly anywhere in the world? I never appreciated all the places I’ve been until now, when I can’t go anywhere. But it’s all I want to do. The cheapest flight I could find was to Mexico. Monterrey. Probably one of the most dangerous places to be right now. Only five hundred dollars. But it’s not a very long flight, and if I want my savings to last until… I don’t know. Until I find another job? Who’s going to hire me?
I couldn’t bring myself to take those drugs. I did try to sleep, but . . . I don’t know. I picked up the pill bottle and opened it and even pulled one out. They’re enormous white pills, with a line down the center. They look like a broken piece of chalk on the inside. I don’t even feel tired. Just numb.
I have to go for a compulsory checkup in a week. They could commit me again, force me to sleep like a normal person. But I’m not normal. I don’t want to be normal.
June 1, 8:43 a.m.
The sleeping pills work—kind of. They make me drowsy enough that I can’t do anything else. The first night I took one, I lay on my futon for six hours. I must have drifted in and out of sleep, because it didn’t feel like six hours. When I woke up, I still felt out of it, like I was high or drunk or both, but a pot of coffee cleared my head.
The second night was more or less the same, but I only made it for four hours. My body is conditioned to go for a week without sleep. The whole time I was lying there, I felt like I should be active. Maybe that will pass in time.
Lying on the futon felt strange. I was aware of my whole body. I could feel its weight pressing against the mattress. And the cool sheets against my skin—that felt nice. Almost comfortable. It was like I could swim in the bed, between the sheets and the cover, like they were some kind of ocean. But I didn’t know what I was swimming toward.
June 5, 8:00 p.m.
The shrink said I was making progress, but he wants me to stay at the higher dose of the sedative for another week. My ex has been calling me every day, but I just ignore the calls. He leaves messages, but I delete them without listening to them. Maybe I should ask him to stop calling, but I don’t want to talk to him. Or initiate any kind of contact. He should get the idea.
My mother is bringing me dinner every day, but we don’t talk. Not really. Just, “How did you like the pizza, Suzie?” and “It was all right, Mom,” and “You need to eat more, you look too skinny, Suzie,” and “I’m not really hungry, Mom,” and “I can bring you something else if you don’t like tacos,” and “No, that’s fine.” I’m still pissed as hell at her.
The most I can “sleep” is six hours. Still just in and out. But I had a dream one night, or I think I did. I was flying, but not in an airplane. It was similar to the dream I have while sleeping on planes, but there was something different about it that I couldn’t place. Maybe I could see the ground this time, or maybe there were more colors, or maybe I felt like I was going to fall. I could have imagined the whole thing.
June 20, 10:54 p.m.
This forced sleep schedule makes me tired. Exhausted. I’ve been looking for graphic design jobs. I sent my portfolio to two places. Two applications in three whole weeks. My savings will only last a few months. And then . . . I can’t wrap my mind around what happened. What might happen. My brain feels like vanilla pudding.
I know what it feels like to be so tired you can feel your blood moving through your veins and you can see particles of air in front of you. I know what it feels like when your fingers feel like they’re on fire, like they’re not a part of you, like you’ve left your body and you’re watching yourself move and wondering, “How am I doing that?”
But this is different. I feel sluggish, like my muscles are made of molasses. My vision blurs in and out of focus. I’ve lost my sense of touch almost completely. Even typing is hard. I have to watch where my fingers land to make sure I hit the right keys, backspace constantly, double check the screen.
The publisher called me yesterday. They got the promotional materials together, and they want me to go to a few conventions. They’re going to pay for everything: hotel, badges, flights. My heart leaped for joy at the word “flights,” but the doctor told me I’m not allowed to fly for a long time. So I told them, almost through tears, that I have to take the train. They just laughed and said no problem, train tickets are cheaper anyway.
That’s the only thing that’s called me out of this stupor I’ve been in for the past three weeks. I feel like, in some way, they are saving my life by publishing my comic, by believing in me. That someone still does—it’s—it makes my throat close up, like I’m about to cry, but not at all like that.
June 25, 7:05 a.m.
I sent out one more job application. I wrote some bullshit in my cover letter about losing my job because of my severe insomnia being a learning experience and that I’m all better now. Yeah fucking right. Mostly I’m just tired of eating the shitty take out my mother brings me. I wish she would leave me alone, but I can’t afford to refuse the help.
These goddamn drugs still aren’t working, but I guess it’s maybe a little better? Everything still seems pointless. I haven’t left my apartment in days. All I do is count down the minutes until 11 p.m. when I can go to bed. It’s started to feel good to dive into the futon and float away on the sedatives. I like closing my eyes. It feels like something is waiting for me there, in that ocean, but I don’t know what. I drift in and out of sleep. My body hasn’t lost the habit of gearing up for work at 6 a.m. yet, so that’s when I find myself staring at the ceiling, at the cracks in the ivory paint—or maybe they run into the plaster, this is an old place—wondering if I’ve slept at all. I never feel refreshed.
The doctors all say these pills should knock me out, no problem, but they don’t. I’m trying not to let despair or anger swell up inside of me, but it’s a battle I fight every moment of every day and that’s exhausting, too. Except for those moments when I remember what it feels like to take off. When gravity tugs at you one final time and then releases you into the sky, and then I know nothing else because I’m asleep. I dream about airplanes: the roar of the engines, the smell of recycled air and one hundred other people stuffed too close to you, the precise ding of the fasten seatbelt chime, the slight pull of the seatbelt against my hips, holding me in place, keeping me grounded.
Knock on Wood
June 27, 6:32 p.m.
I was afraid to mention this before because I didn’t want to jinx it. Even though I try to get rid of my superstitions, my mother ingrained them too well. But the second day after they let me out of the loony bin, the morning after I stayed up all night looking at flights, I sent some comic strips to a local magazine.
Today they called me. They want me to do a weekly strip for their website. Then one of the strips will appear in the monthly print magazine. The art editor said I had really tapped into LA’s insanity, that my comics were spot on.
First the book, now this. I feel like I’m living in a dream world, or an alternate reality. Like I’m not Suzie Lightning anymore, but some bizarre approximation of her, or like some pod person alien invaded her body and kept her memories and for whatever reason, her shitty apartment.
My ex caught me on Skype after I got the phone call. I was in such a good mood that I didn’t bother to ignore him. He said he was glad I’m doing better. I said I don’t know if I’d go that far. He said he misses me, but I don’t know if I miss him. I didn’t say that, though. I was feeling merciful, only because if not for him being an asshole and getting me committed, I wouldn’t have drawn those comic strips and I wouldn’t have gotten this (paid!) gig. So I didn’t say anything at all. I didn’t know what to say.
Maybe I don’t need a new job—I haven’t heard back from anyone, anyway. Maybe I can just draw comics now, like I’ve always wanted to.
Did This Really Happen?
June 28, 7:04 a.m.
Last night I slept for eight hours, straight through the night. I didn’t wake up once. I didn’t dream about airplanes. I still had to take a giant fucking sedative, but I slept.
Kelly Lynn Thomas reads a lot and writes strange fiction in Pittsburgh, PA. She lives with her partner, one dog, a cat, and a constant migraine. Her work has appeared in Permafrost, Sou’wester, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and other journals. Kelly received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, is a coordinator for the VIDA Count, and can always be found with a large mug of tea. Read more at http://kellylynnthomas.com.