Sleepless

I’ve been watching the morning news since 4 AM. It comes on earlier and earlier these days. I can’t imagine there would be much breaking news to report between 11:35 PM and 4 AM that it can’t waiting until 8. Who besides me is up watching it? But then I remember Orlando, and I turn up the volume.

Donald Trump will be in town. They interview a girl in a sleeping bag just outside the gates of the special events center. “Ah’ve bain hair saince faive a em!”  she says in a heavy Southern drawl. She wants to make sure she gets in and that she has good seats. All this for a man whose only policies I can remember involve banning a billion people and building a wall to ban a million more.

Hell, I’ll be up, I might as well go. Maybe he’s not as bad as he seems. Maybe he actually has good ideas. Maybe there’s a logical reason for why people like him so much, and not the reason I fear. But then I remember where I live. The last time I stepped out because I couldn’t sleep, I found myself on the outskirts of town, driving behind a black pickup with a Confederate flag in the rear window. Going to see Trump is the closest I’ll get to attending a Klan rally. They’ll take one look at my afro and know I don’t belong.

Sean walks in buttoning his uniform and sighs when he sees me on the couch. For once, I wish he’d be happy that I’m up before him. I could’ve cooked him breakfast, fixed him a fresh pot of coffee. But who am I kidding? He’s known since our first date sophomore year in college that I don’t cook. I’m one of the few people who are actually skilled at burning coffee.

“Please tell me you haven’t been here all night,” he says.

“Just all morning.” I smile, but he doesn’t laugh.

“Sweetie.” He sits on the arm of the couch, and my eyes drift down to the gun holstered on his hip. I wonder, will he have to shoot anyone today? Someone who doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t listen, like me. Pull the trigger to silence my defiant mouth.

“We sent Matthew to your sister’s so you could finally get some sleep. Please tell me you don’t still hear the man downstairs.”

I don’t understand why he can’t just go downstairs and check that apartment. He’s a cop for God’s sake. The man downstairs is beating his wife. Her screams should be probable cause enough. I hear her struggle with him every night — the lamp crashing to the floor, the shaking of our bed when he slams her against the wall. I hear him curse her: Bitch! Cunt! I know he’s drunk. He comes home from the bar and demands she get on her knees, do her marital duties. Some nights I think he’s already on top of her when she wakes up because I hear his grunts and then her high-pitched screams. Their bedroom is directly below ours.

But Sean doesn’t hear a thing. He sleeps like a bear in hibernation. He’s sure the apartment downstairs is empty because he saw an eviction notice posted on the door last month. It’s just my postpartum, he tells me, it’s just my insomnia.

He tangles his fingers in my hair, pulls me into him, and wraps me in a suffocating hug. “Why don’t I go ask the manager if anyone’s living in 205, hmm?” he says, kissing my forehead.

“No.” I pull out of his arms. “I didn’t hear anything last night.”

“Well that’s good!” he exclaims, but he’s missed the hint again. I couldn’t sleep last night because I didn’t hear anything. Now I fear she’s dead. He’s wrapped her in a throw rug and is sorting out where to dump the body. Maybe he’ll put her in the trunk of her car and drive it into the swampy waters of Midland Lake, five miles down the road. Would he be so stupid to bury her so close?

“Babe, do you think we can bring Matthew home tonight? I don’t want him to start thinking Sidra is his mom.”

I shrug because I don’t hear him. I’m fixated on the news again, waiting for headlines of a woman’s body found. But they keep playing footage of wounded patrons of Pulse nightclub being carried off to safety. I can see they were shot, blood pouring out between their fingers as they try unsuccessfully to block the wounds, t-shirts and pants soaked through, red, a deep cherry. Are they supposed to show this much gore on early morning TV? I think of that movie — I’ve seen so many since the night I decided to stay in — Nightcrawler, staring Jake Gyllenhaal. News directors obsessed with getting the grisliest of crime scene footage, and the cameramen willing to cake their lenses in innocent victims’ blood just to get it. They wonder why we’re so desensitized now. One thousand Palestinian children can have half their faces blown off, and no one bats an eye. And then I remember my own child. How he could be watching, how he could be dying.

“One more night,” I tell Sean, and he kisses my hand.

“Fine.” I never knew one syllable could stab me in the chest so deeply. He’s disgusted with me. He thinks I’m making up these phantom screams from downstairs because I don’t want kids; I don’t want his son, his image and likeness, attached to my hip. Was it so bad just the two of us?

“I’ll be in late tonight,” he says, walking to the door.

“Are you doing the Trump rally?”

“Yea, making sure no one gets sucker punched.” The breezy air in his voice returns, and I think maybe he’ll forgive me if I try to fall asleep tonight before he gets home.

“You know, if those protesters were smart, they would just stay away,” he says.

“If they were smart, they’d keep protesting. We don’t need someone who promotes violence and racism in the White House.”

He shakes his head. I’m so much more political than he is. He’s only voted once, Obama’s reelection, and I practically had to drag him to the polls kicking and screaming. Even last summer during all the demonstrations against police, he didn’t refute with chanting “Blue Lives Matter,” or the ever-insulting “All Lives Matter,” as if to exclude Black lives from that category. Too many people are dying for us to be so selfish, he told me.

He’s halfway out the door when he calls back to me, “Why don’t you get out the house today. Go to Sidra’s. It might do you some good just to hold him.”

I consider his proposition. It could help. My breasts have gotten so sore over this past week, my nipples so tender. Then I think my time would be better spent just buying a pump from Target. But what would be the point of having all this milk and no baby to nurse? So I nod. Tonight, I’ll sleep in the nursery so I’m not tormented by the screams or lack there of from under my bed. I’ll show Sean how much I’m missing our precious baby boy. I’ll be a better mommy for him and for Matthew.

—Nortina

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