Sep 13, 2010

Kind Of A Long Story: Sleepwalkers


It's one a.m.

While the cats stalk dust bunnies, and her hubby peacefully slumbers, Kathleen is chatting away to her pillow.

In the city that never sleeps, Donny is screaming at giant cockroaches on the ceiling (which in this particular Brooklyn flat at least are actually imaginary.)

And while little boys dream peacefully in their bunk bed, on the other side of the wall their mom, that's me – is intensely negotiating some sort of corner drug deal in the hallway. (That's what happens when I watch The Wire before bedtime).


Yes, it is a common known fact that we are a family of sleep talkers and even more creepily – sleepwalkers.

If you didn't think we were freaks before, please, be our guest. We've put clean sheets on the guest room bed. Here's a stack fresh towels. Would you like us to turn the ceiling fan on low or medium-low for you?

Oh, and by the way. If we burst into your room yelling about cretaceous period insects or threatening to pop a cap in your ass, oh... ha, ha. La-dee-da. Just go with it.

If this sounds particularly disturbing, try being one of our significant others.

One of the first times I "slept over" with my now-husband, Chris, was in college at his parents' house out in the country, while they were gone for the weekend on vacation. I woke up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. Chris nearly leapt out the window (which we had left open to listen to the crickets... awww). I lamely explained I thought I had spilled a glass of red wine on their bedspread. Hmmm. Guilty much?

Since then my husband has been subjected to years of my midnight mayhem, which usually involves me either shouting and jumping out of bed and running into the other room, trying to conversationally and quite civilly rationalize some very pressing matter with him (which he has to just go along with, because I get really defensive and pissed if he dares to tell me I'm sleep talking, which I'm obviously not), or sometimes is just me eerily creeping out into the dark house before I slowly come to my senses and wander back. Seen Paranormal Activity?

When our kids were little babies things got even more wackadoo (which we're not completely out of the woods yet since our youngest is still only two years old, and I pulled a number three from the list below just last week). The baby sleep-freakouts that Chris have been subjected to include me:
1 . trying to push him off of our baby that I'm convinced he's smothering
2. climbing over him to forage on his side of the bed to save the aforementioned baby
3. jumping up with a startling bed-shaking gasp because I forgot we had a baby and therefore had neglected to feed it or take care of it for several days (seen Trainspotting?)

I saw in a documentary once that when you dream you aren't really supposed to be able to walk or talk or move. And that if you are experiencing dreams while mobile or vocal, that it actually qualifies as a night terror.

And while I have been terrified at times (if you've seen that Trainspotting baby you know what I'm talking about), mostly my episodes are just very, well, vivid. Like trying to march (like marching band style) to the end of my bed, my phantom flute held high, on nights after high school football games. Like sneaking out of the motel bed and dumping all the change out of all my girlfriends jeans on school field trips. Like standing motionless in my college apartment living room, and after being discovered by (and scaring the crap out of ) my best friend and roommate, actually convincing her that she was the one being ridiculous for shrieking, and shaming her back into her room.

Okay, so maybe the term night terror isn't actually describing the experience the sleepwalker is going through, but rather describing the horror they inflict on others.

Case in point. Donny. His night terrors started at a younger age than mine, about nine or ten years old. So I'm having a slumber party. Picture a bunch of thirteen year olds just giggling away in the living room (along with my little sister, of course, hanging out like our little pizza-eating, brownie-nibbling mascot). When all of a sudden, the I'm-being-murdered-screams of a young boy start echoing down the hallway.

We all jump up, and start sort of shuffling-running-wrenching-each-others-clothes-in-a-crazy-scaredy-cat-single-file-line (you know, like how you do with a group when you're all going through a haunted house) down the hallway. I'm in the lead. I grab my brother's doorknob, and bravely, if not spazzily, fling open his bedroom door. The force of the "door wind," or whatever you want to call it, makes all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Batman posters fly up off the wall all at one time. Which made me scream. Which in turn made all my girlfriends start screaming their heads off.

So amidst all the tween screams I flick the light switch on. Donny is standing in his bunk bed with his eyes, I swear, like a possessed person, all big pupils and red irises and the foggiest, craziest look you've ever seen.

He's shouting that there are cockroaches on his ceiling. (Yes, a theme that will follow him well into adulthood.) Granted, in reality there were a bunch of those greenish-white glow-in-the dark little solar system stickers on his ceiling. Not really a good idea in our household in hindsight.

However, it was actually the highlight of the party. And, what the heck? Our parents never even woke up.

They did when Donny was a teenager, though, when in the middle of the night they were woken by the sound of the front door suddenly banging open. Donny had run, like all-out run, out the front door (in the middle of February in the ice, mind you) in nothing but his tighty-whities. He was halfway down the concrete drain-ditch that runs along the side of my parents' house before my they caught up with him and yelled him back to his senses.

One of the worst times Donny ever hurt himself in relation to his sideshow profession (except the mouse trap incident) was sleepwalking shirtless into his bed of nails, which was propped up against the wall, and left a pretty nasty wound along his side.

Kathleen never really went all Girl, Interrupted with her random nocturnal talking, and her little bit of sleepwalking here and there. You know, hers is just enough to be cute. And, honestly, until I started writing all this down, I always thought it was just an entertaining little quirk for all of us. Even with my dad, who once slept walked off the balcony of his college dorm.

So in review, perhaps it's less in the realm of cute, and more like in the vicinity of competency hearing.

Plus, if there was a movie about us, of course blonde bruisey Angelina would play Kathleen, and I'd end up being the girl who hid the chicken carcasses under her bed. Since there are no boys in Girl, Interrupted Donny would just have to be cold-sweat, sheet-writhing Ewan in Trainspotting.

With that damn baby climbing on the ceiling.

Just watch out for the cockroaches up there little guy.


  1. I have to let you know that I laughed out loud multiple times reading this.

  2. What would make Ashley laugh? That's my new motivation.

  3. Once Donny was angry that Kathleen was in his room. I told him she was NOT in his room - he dragged me in there, pointed to a pile of clothes on the floor and said "SEE!?" I said "That's a pile of CLOTHES!" He looked again - "oh - never mind". I'm not sure at what point he actually WOKE UP.

  4. I should also note that when I sleep naked (like, every night) I wake in the middle of night (again, almost every night) creeping out of bed to find my clothes because I'm convinced I'm sharing a bed with you, Tara, instead of my husband.

    That's what I get for refusing to sleep alone. Ever.

  5. Oh! One more!

    Remember that time Mom came into your room to tell us to keep it down? We had been holding a lengthy (and apparently loud) conversation with each other IN OUR SLEEP - completely unaware.Haha!

  6. Oh, believe me, I could have written an epic based on our sleep talking and sleep walking stories.

    And, yes, that's what you get Kathleen for never sleeping alone.

  7. Oh my goodness... I am in love with your freaky family.

  8. I'm bilingual, so one night a couple of years ago my boyfriend sleepily pleaded, "Babe, stop speaking French." Apparently I talk in my sleep about once a month.

  9. Thanks for the freak love, J.

    Okay, so now, if I were speaking French in my sleep I think it would be WAY more appealing.

  10. So you wrote this almost a year ago and I just found it, but good god it's hysterical! I'm trying not to wake my husband with my laughter but the way the bed's shaking, he may fall out.
    And Donny's Christmas pj's just about killed me. I'm reading posts out of order, so I can't wait to find out if he showed up last year with those blue and red capri jammies, his mustache and a cup of coffee. Fingers crossed!

  11. I'm glad you found a little levity in our family stories, Mj. (even if it is in the middle of the night, which is fitting for this post). And, I'm glad you're curious to read on... thanks for the belated, but no less nice, comment!