In Napa Valley for a writer’s conference, I lie awake in bed for three reasons:
First, because my left wrist is crooked, bent away from my head. That wrist, which my friends have named Flopsy, has lost almost all of its strength. It’s been this way for a while, always bent, its knuckles distortedly looking out towards whatever spans to my left. This is no unusual event, my wrist being this way, but now, I’ve thought about it—how uncomfortable it is—and I can’t stop. In fact, nothing bothers me more in this moment than my wrist being crooked. People are dying. The earth is heating up, slowly, towards a doomed, concerning state. But more so, I’m lying here, and my wrist is crooked, pushed up against my face so that it fills the majority of my left visual field, and I can’t straighten it out.
The second reason is that my hair is trapped under my head, tugging ever so slightly on my scalp so that there’s pain, just scarcely but just enough. Before, I’d been sleeping on my right side with my hair, in dire need of a haircut, sprayed out behind me like a fan. So, when I’d been rolled over to sleep on my left side, my head had turned but my hair hadn’t, and now I am resting on a pillow of my own hair.
Third, a small, green light shines out of the small box on the floor in front of me, my wheelchair charger indicating that my chair is full of power, ready for the next day. The light is tiny, really, but in an effort to conceal it, my mother has tucked the charger into the corner of the hotel room. Only once the room lights are turned off can you tell that the mechanical blaze reflects onto the dark surface it is up against, illuminating that single corner of the room with a dull, witch-green glow.
My mother sleeps beside me on the unfamiliar bed. Her heavy breaths remind me again and again that she is alive, resting. I’m not sure what time it is—looking at the clock requires the turning of my head—and I wonder if it would be possible to wait until the sun comes up, but I’m too tired to wait. I want to go back to sleep.
Closing my eyes does not help. It makes me more aware of my own position in space (a sudden increase in proprioception, this is called), especially that of my wrist. Counting sheep doesn’t help, either. I’ve never been a numbers gal.
The worst is when my mosquito bite starts to itch. It hasn’t itched all day, so why it itches now must, again, be purely attributed to the fact that I am thinking about it. Either that, or the mosquito venom has somehow been activated in this specific moment.
Note to self: When the sun comes up, look up why mosquito bites are itchy.
Earlier, I was surrounded by grapes and wine and writers in a lecture that taught that writing is 90 percent paying attention to the world around you. Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the number of times I turn at night. That is, the number of times I wake my mother up to turn me. It has been twice, so far, tonight. Paying attention allows me to register, and registering allows me to alter, to reduce, if need-be. But paying attention demands a certain vigilance, and some nights I am too tired to pay attention even as I sleep.
They also say that you should never try to write a story that isn’t your own truth, or rather, you should aim to write a story that only you, out of everyone in the world, can write. I’m oddly encouraged. I think I can do that. Write well, write eloquently, write ingeniously, I’m not sure. But write something only I can write? That I can do. It is an inherent part of its definition, my ability to do it. I will attempt it, starting tomorrow. First, however, I must sleep. And to sleep, I must straighten my wrist.
I part my reluctant lips and call into the darkness, softly, “Mom?”