I Am Sleeping With One Eye Open

The Next Family

By: Ann Brown

Ann Brown

This is our four-year anniversary, Molly and me. As you know, I adopted her from the animal shelter on the day Michelle Kwan dropped out of the Olympics so the Winter Olympics will always remind me of my dog.

Speaking of which, where IS Michelle K? I haven’t seen her in the stands at the Pacific Coliseum, so unless she is being hidden from the camera by the obscuring presence of that ridiculous bong-totin’ galoot, Michael Phelps, I guess she’s not in Vancouver. I hope she is okay. I hope she is doing better – four years later – than Molly is right now.

Poor Molly. She is not doing great. She’s old, lame and incapable of sleeping for more than two hours at a time. I am back to living the life of a new mommy – up every hour, stumbling and lurching my way towards the back door to let Molly out and then falling asleep on the kitchen counter while I wait for her to come back. Not that I put my newborns out in the back yard to pee while I slept on the kitchen counter, no sireeee. I stayed awake back then. And had headaches all the time. And I was very bitchy. Very bitchy. In fact, Robin once said to me, “I guess the beauty of you being a bitch every day is that no one will ever accuse you of having PMS.”

And now, almost thirty years later, here I am back in the world of the sleep-deprived, only without a baby. In fact, come to think of it, I am the one who sleeps like a baby these days, not Molly:  I wake up every two hours, cry, and then eat until I fall asleep again. All night long. If my pants get any tighter, I am going to have to take to wearing those stretchy Onesies with the snaps on the crotch.

It’s totally fucked up that at the two stages of life when everyone around us most needs their rest – babyhood and infirm old age – we are the worst sleepers. And exhausting the people who are in charge of our very survival is probably not the smartest thing to do. Robin once put that red-hued, gum-numbing medicine in our son’s nose because he was too tired to keep his eyes open while taking his turn soothing our teething baby.  He did it, like, four times during the night and when I saw the poor kid in the morning, he looked like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.  My friend Julie once got her baby’s toe fungus medicine mixed up with the pink-eye medicine.  You’d think that squirting toe fungus ointment into your baby’s eyes would sober one into paying closer attention, but it just so happens that a few years later, Julie ignored her daughter’s complaints about boogers bothering her nose -ignored her for days – before realizing that the booger in there was actually one of Julie’s pearl earrings.  Oh, and my friend Wade once left his newborn baby in the car after dropping off his wife at a restaurant before he went searching for a free parking place. Which was five blocks away. Which was where he left the car – and the baby – and sprinted to the restaurant, ready to enjoy a nice dinner. Until his wife asked him where the baby was. I bet after that, it wasn’t such a nice dinner with the wife.

I was halfway through a vitamin C tablet at four o’clock this morning while waiting for Molly to finish peeing outside before I realized that it wasn’t a vitamin C tablet at all; it was seven Wheat Thins with Laughing Cow cheese on them. Okay, well, I guess I knew about that, but who can blame me? When you are tired, you do not make good decisions.

I’ve been through this before. Blacky was an old cat, and for most of her life she needed nothing from us. The kids found her when we lived in LA – she was a stray; self-sufficient and completely independent. It was a relationship that knew no demands. When we moved to Oregon, Blacky came with us and adjusted to her new life by settling herself in the upstairs of our new house and never setting foot outside – or downstairs – again.

By the end of her life, I hated Blacky.  I loved her, too, because sometimes even after she’d shit on my carpet and barfed up a bloody hairball in my bed, and even after we had to have all her teeth extracted  (to the tune of a thousand dollars) so all she could eat was baby food, I could still look at that dainty cat face of hers and feel my heart stretch out and soften. But I was exhausted all the time and she cried all night long. She needed a spoonful of food at 3 AM, and then another spoonful at 3:30 and then she pooped and then she meowed that mournful, primal meow for about a half hour.

I used to lie in bed and listen to her calls. Murr-ahow it began, in a soft guttural clearing of her throat. Murr-OHWHW it crescendo-ed, louder and more alien, but I pretended not to hear her. Once, I swear, she jumped on my bed and over-articulated her meows right into my ear, the way we speak loudly and slowly to non-English speakers. Me-ow. Do-you-understand-this, you idiot American human? ME-OW.

A few years ago I complained to my mom about how Blacky was taking over my life. “It’s not worth it, you’re exhausted” she said. “Put her to sleep. You need your sleep.”

I was aghast. My mom just laughed.  “Oh, come on. Stick a little poison in some brisket and give it to her. She’ll eat it right up.”  I didn’t know if she was joking or not.

But either way, I still make sure my mom eats the first bite of her brisket at Passover. I mean, I used to keep Mom up a lot when I was a baby. She might be holding a grudge.

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