It’s 2:00 in the morning and I’m laying sprawled on my bed.
But I’m also sitting in a chair at the center of my bedroom. There are images flickering between the shadows, sounds echoing between my ears. I think I’m asleep…or else I’m hallucinating. Maybe a little of both. Someone—Ernest’s afterimage, perhaps—is putting on a record, which is strange because I don’t own a turntable.
“You Can Do Magic,” by America, starts playing.
I try to say, “Quit touching my stuff, Ernest.” Instead, it comes out, “Quee touth mm sluh, Unsth.”
Ernest crouches beside me, gives me a wet willy. “I told you to call me Ernie.”
Damn it. He’s getting crumbs on my floor. I can see them now as they dance across the room. I want to clean them up, but I can’t budge. I’m certain now that I’m not yet fully asleep but caught in that purgatory of the mind that often accompanies insomnia. I get like this often. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep. Two-thirds of any given night is usually spent staving off much-needed REM. In effect, I’m power-napping, but not actually sleeping.
It’s pissing me off. Why can’t I just take sleeping pills? Oh, that’s right, they’re not natural. My mom’s already had this discussion with me. She’s a homeopath. Herbs, aromatherapy, and acupuncture are her tools of the trade. She’s been practicing natural on me for twelve years and the best she can come up with for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT.
Learning the hard way.
I sigh. It’s just like a finger puzzle, I tell myself: the harder I try to sleep, the more agitated I become. But if I let the imagery distract me from trying to fall asleep, if I concentrate on not concentrating…well, you see why I sometimes wish I could pop some pills and be done with it. Tricky stuff.
For now, I convince myself I’m watching a movie. The chair beneath me reshapes itself into a plush recliner; the furniture in my room has been fitted with wheels—everything is flat as cardboard, like cheap props in a high school play. My things are wheeled away, replaced with Ernie’s things: bed, dresser, numerous shelves stacked with Maxim magazines, bottle caps, baseball cards, Carl’s Jr. plastic tickets, movie theater stubs. On the floor: forgotten underwear, socks, potato chip bags, candy wrappers, and, ironically, a copy of the Little Hercules Hollywood Workout for Kids DVD. I laugh, remembering how funny it was the first time I saw it.
“You know darn well,” Ernie lip-syncs angrily, “when you cast your spell you will get your way…”
Jan and Eva look at each other and shrug. They step out of the way, for the invisible stagehands are at it again. Ernie’s room is wheeled away, everything replaced with hanging tinsel. My clothes are pulled off; I’m lifted out of my seat and dangled in mid-air so that my bare torso is at the mercy of the tinsel (which reaches easily from ceiling to floor). I realize this is supposed to be a mock-up of what it was like uploading into Jan’s room. It tickles so much and for so long that I think I’m going to die, but eventually it fades, the tinsel is removed, and the backdrop is replaced with a small living room. There’s a futon, desk, and dresser arranged as a makeshift partition in one corner. Thankfully, my clothing has been replaced just as Ernie and the others appear alongside me.
“Fucking poor people,” Ernie says, lifting an entire cheesecake to his lips and nibbling vigorously. “Talk about saving the worst for last.”
Okay, so I’m pretty sure the cheesecake is an exaggeration. The scattered female bodybuilder pics cluttering Jan’s desktop, however, aren’t.
“Dude,” I say, holding up a half-wrinkled black and white print-out and reading the caption. “Who’s Annie Rivieccio?”
“Give me that!” Jan cries, yanking the sheet from my hand.
Ernie snorts, spewing graham cracker crust onto Jan’s computer monitor. “Wow. Creepy, but cost-effective jack-off material.”
Jan is lobster-red. Hastily filing his musclebound beauties away, he clears his throat and says, “Can we please stick to the assignment?”
“Relax. This is all fact-gathering—hey, look, everyone! Jan’s a closet jock!” Ernie struggles to lift one of Jan’s dumbbells, but gives up when his arm falls off.
I know I’m dreaming, so I laugh hysterically.
“That’s not nice,” Eva says, slapping my shoulder. She bends over to help Ernie re-attach his arm. As she does so, her skimpier-than-they-actually-were gym shorts ride up just enough to catch my attention, and I suddenly discover my own burgeoning affinity for the female posterior.
I have to look away, lest my eyes pop out of their sockets. A barrage of adjectives floods my mind: cute, perky, perfect, apple bottom, honey buns, and so forth. Luckily my brain has relaxed to the point where shifting from thought to thought isn’t a problem. I blink once, find that I’m standing over my bathroom sink and brushing my teeth. Everyone else has called it a night—well, everyone but Ernie, who’s uploaded himself behind my back and who’s now standing behind me in his bathrobe.
He wants to know if he can borrow some toothpaste.
I shoo him away, sending him back home and turning off my computer. I make a mental note to upload into his house tomorrow and replace his box of SnackWell’s with a bag of fresh carrots. Or, better yet, I’ll sneak over and mess with his SMN settings so that the next time he uploads he’ll be all pixelated, like Jan. No! Even better, I’ll replace his Maxim collection with issues of my mom’s Cooking Light…
And that’s how I fall asleep this crazy, crazy morning: thinking up things to do to unsuspecting friends who are but a click away.
Cognitive behavioral therapy—it works.