What Happened, Part 3: A New Disease

I’m awake.  I’m tired, but I stay awake.  I try lying on my back, my right side, my left side,  my back again, my stomach, my right side again . . . I can’t get comfortable.

I know when I’m about to drift off usually because my mind starts thinking odd thoughts seemingly on its own.    Suddenly the people I’m thinking about start talking on their own.  Other people I hadn’t been thinking of start entering the room.  We’re outside suddenly.  I’m in a car.  I’m at a football game.  The dream is starting.  My subconscious is opening itself to me.  It’s comforting.  Finally I start to get those odd thoughts.  I just need to let it take me now.  Just relax and let go.

No!  Something stopped me!  I’m fully awake again.  What was that?  My heart.  My heart knew I was falling asleep and it stopped me!  It was like a quick burst of burning sensation in my chest.  It knocked the sleep out of me.  This isn’t good.

OK, just relax and try again.  Stay in that same position.  Your head is resting close to your sleeping wife.  This is truly comfortable.  This is ideal.  Breathe slowly.  Just let your mind go again.  Ah, here come those thoughts again.  How wonderful!  I’m talking with an old friend.  He’s telling me strange things.  Just go with it.

No!  It happened again!  Why is this happening?  What is with my heart?  OK, try that thing you did when you couldn’t sleep the night before the bar exam.  Lie on your back.  No pillow.  Rest your eyes.  Don’t force them shut, just rest them.  Say the Hail Mary in your head over and over.  Don’t worry about how many times you say it, just keep saying it.  Let the voice in your head change as it wishes.  Don’t worry about the time.  Don’t worry about sleep.  Only focus on repeating this prayer over and over again.  Keep going.  Don’t stop.

It’s not working!  I’m not sure how much time went by.  20 minutes?  An hour?  I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here.  All I can think about is having to get up in a few hours, and that time seems to be quickly approaching.  Against my better judgment, I get up to check the time.  1:40am.  If I fall asleep now, I’ll have about 5 hours sleep under my belt going in tomorrow.  It’s not a lot, but right now that sounds glorious.

I get back into bed.  My wife wakes up.  She asks if everything’s OK.  I tell her I can’t fall asleep.  She’s concerned.  She asks if I want her to stay awake with me to talk.  I do.  When she’s sleeping and I’m not, I get more anxious.  I feel alone.  We stay up and just talk about whatever, but she’s very tired and starts dozing off.  I don’t stop her.  Why should she suffer just because I can’t sleep.

Another hour passes.  And another.  I’m not looking at less than three hours of sleep if I can manage to fall asleep now.  But I can’t!  My damn heart keeps flaring up the moment I start to drift off.  I’m not going to fall asleep.  It’s stupid to even try at this point.  But I can’t go into work like this.  Having only slept a few hours the previous two nights, going in this morning on absolutely no sleep would be a disaster.

Screw it.  I wake my wife up and tell her I’m calling in sick this morning.  She’s relieved to hear it.  She falls back asleep.

Sick?  I don’t get sick.  I haven’t missed a day of work or school on account of sickness in what, six years?  Seven years?  I don’t even get colds.  I’m impervious to disease.  It’s one thing I know I can offer that few others can.  I can be counted to never call in sick.  That’s me!  But here I am ready to call in on my fifth day on the job.  I couldn’t make it out of the first week.  It will seem odd, but who cares?  I don’t.  I’m not going in.  I keep my alarm on.  When it goes off, I send emails to whoever letting them know that I won’t be in today.

The freedom of knowing that I don’t have to worry about sleep anymore is relaxing.  It’s such a relief after hours of agonizing over falling asleep.  Who cares if I don’t fall asleep now?  I’ll just lie on the damn couch all day or for the next three days and rest then.  I’m at peace with this.  I rest my head next to my wife.  The odd thoughts come.  My heart doesn’t flare up.  I drift away.

Morning comes.  The alarm goes off.  I wake up, eat breakfast, put on my suit, and go to work.  Of course.


Day five.  I’m here.  Whatever.  I hang out and observe a misdemeanor court in the morning.  The assigned attorney actually isn’t employed by the DA’s office.  There’s a program where attorneys can sign up to work for the office pro bono for four months at a time.  It’s to help gain experience and possibly get your foot in the door at the office.  This attorney is a recent Marquette grad.  He needs a job, but in this market nothing is popping up.  So he’s giving away his services.  Three years of law school, tens of thousands of dollars of debt, nights of endless studying, taking the damn bar, all so he can have the privilege to work for free for four months.  What an industry.

Am I keeping guys like this from getting a job?  He clearly knows what he’s doing.  He’s not saddled with the handicap of expecting everything to be run differently.  He went to law school all of three blocks from the courthouse.  He’s been studying Wisconsin law for years.  And yet I have a job while he’s working for free?

I ask the guy if I can treat him to lunch to pick his brain about how the office works.  He agrees.  He doesn’t know my ulterior motive.  Right now, I don’t give a damn about how the office works.  I’ll figure that out next week and the week after and so on.  I want to hear about his story.  I want to hear about the massive amount of debt he’s got.  I want to hear about how he’s been wanting to work at this office for years.  I want to hear all that, because I want another reason to leave.  It’s chickenshit, I know.  I already know I want to leave.  I already know that I probably won’t.  But I just want another reason, and maybe this will be the one that pushes me to “probably will.”

We chat.  We eat.  He’s not too talkative about his problems.  I understand, I mean who am I that strangers would just want to open up to me?  He’s a good guy, though.  Whatever happens with me, I really hope things work out for him.

We head back to work. I watch court for a few hours, then head back to the charging area.  Everyone’s in a great mood.  I join them in that mood the best I can.  If nothing else, I’ll have the next two days to myself.  I haven’t looked forward to a weekend so much in a long time.  Until then, people are chatting.  People are laughing.  People are swearing.  Finally, 4:30 comes around.  Everybody leaves early.  It’s the weekend.


The two days off bring a new sense of optimism.  I survived the first week!  That’s the first step.  Maybe I will be able to do this for the long-haul.  I start to open up to people about it.  I finally call my mom back.  I tell her that it was tough.  I tell her about everything that went wrong.  But I’m not overly negative.  She thinks I’ll be fine.

My wife and I go to a party at her aunt’s house.  I talk about the job to her family there.  Some stuff.  Overall, the talking helps.  It really helps when I hear somebody respond with shock or disgust.  “Wow, they really don’t seem like they have their act together!”  Thank you, I really did need the validation.  You have no idea how much at this point.

I sleep fine Friday night.  I sleep fine Saturday night.  No heart flares.  Just hitting the pillow and drifting off like I’m used to doing.  Then Sunday night comes, and I’m antsy.  I hit my pillow and it’s more of the same.  I start to drift off, my heart flares up.  But then I focus.  I focus on an event.  I focus on a memory.  I relive that memory.  I don’t let my mind get away from that memory.  I’m not going to worry about anything right now, I’m just going to be inside this moment again.  A little time goes by, and I fall asleep.  I get six hours of sleep.  It’s wonderful.  Things are looking up.


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