An Insomniac’s Story by Mark Tulin

It’s 3 a.m. Another day of guilt. Another night of restlessness.

I’m lying in bed while your story keeps me awake. It started when I heard you had the virus, and that you might not recover. I felt sorry that your life would be passing any moment, tragically, much sooner than we all expected.

Tossing and turning in bed, changing the placement of the pillows without satisfaction, I can’t go back to sleep. I recount your story in my head as I lay awake with the soothing hum of the C-PAP machine.

I feel the warm air travel through my lungs, opening my pores, and making me yearn for the past when we were happier. My body wants to sleep, but my head keeps spinning with your life’s story. It’s as if you are inside of me, Sara, a movie director, torturing me with scenes from the past–our days at UCLA, our romantic interludes on the beaches, our wedding in the park,
and our disastrous marriage with two lawyers pulling our lives apart.

Poor Sara, I wish I could have been with you in the hospital. You were so fragile, thinking it would be a short stay, but soon realizing that you’ll never leave. You can smell your blood and excrement, and see the tubes stuck into your arms like a convoluted expressway. You get worse each day, drying up into a veiny skeleton, eyes a faded gray. No one has any clue to what is
wrong. The doctors think it might be complications from the coronavirus, but they’re uncertain. They keep changing medications and diagnoses. The nurses purposely avoid your concerns as if you’re already dead and gone. Eventually, they give up entirely, but you keep hanging on by a thread of hope. You bargain with god even though you were an atheist, and when that doesn’t work, you try to invoke the devil to give you a second chance. He laughs in your face and says, “it’s too late, dearie.” You transcend the world you once loved by retreating into a coma. Your eyes shut tight, and mouth curls into a half-smile of helpless resignation.

I click off the C-PAP, remove the plastic mask from my face, and shuffle down the narrow hallway with your dark story still trailing me. Your narrative continues while I put the toilet seat down and try to sort this all out. The bathroom is my only sanctuary where I can find a moment
of peace and clarity. The buzz of the ceiling fan calms my pulsating temples as I continue to recall your story.

The way you cried when you peeled onions, your curly hairs that clogged the sink, and the spiders that scared the shit out of you. Sara, I don’t understand why these memories keep ruminating in my head, overriding sleep. I divorced you years ago. But it seems that you’re still here, despite my not even visiting you in the hospital or attending your funeral.

I can see you biting your fingernails and those barely audible mumbles to yourself when things don’t go right. Funny how you laughed with a snort after you told a silly joke that only you understood.

I go into the kitchen and turn the fire under the tea pot. I wait like a frozen statue for the sound of the boiling water and the whistling of the steam. I don’t remember a thing you cooked for me, although I know you spent hours doing it. Perhaps, I was distracted by my work concerns, or your food was too mediocre to remember. I pour a cup of chamomile tea with
honey and hope it takes the edge off.

I move into the living room and see your shadow sitting on the sofa in the dark. I feel your presence flickering like a flame, the outline of your curvy body, and your atomic afro mushrooming against the wall. I convince myself that it is you, even though it is my imagination playing tricks on me.

I join you on the sofa. You are lost and bewildered. You’re here because you need help to figure out your soul’s next destination. “That’s not a matter for me to decide,” I say. “Your fear keeps you stuck in limbo, Sara. If only you could let go of the past.”

“It’s not that,” you say. “I don’t want to leave. I love it here.”

“I can’t imagine what being dead must feel like,” I say. “But I’m sure it will be better for you if you find a new home, and not here.”

“Do you mind if I stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” I say, and get up from the sofa without saying goodbye.

I stumble in the dark, hitting my bad toe on the corner of the dining room table. It hurts, but it doesn’t hurt as much as you do. You almost made it to Atlanta, Sara, to be with our daughter, the only person you truly loved. You had a dream of retiring from the post office, and following your literary calling in the deep south. Your life story destined to become a New York Times’ best-seller, if only you had completed the memoir before time ran out.

You had it all planned. You would find an apartment somewhere around Peachtree Street, near our daughter. She would inspire your writing career, while you would babysit her adorable son and support her as a single mother. The perfect scenario was within your grasp, Sara. All you had to do was buy the one-way plane ticket, and you were home free.

Our daughter told me everything. The way your body gradually blackened with decay. The virus was bad enough, Sara, but the cancer? It spread quicker than maggots lining a trashcan. It went from the left leg to the brain in a matter of weeks. It was an awful blow; the hospital staff couldn’t figure out exactly what was causing it, which added to your trauma. They
tried several last gasp measures, but none of them worked–your condition only worsened. The doctors and nurses were overworked and tired. They made terrible mistakes that they covered up to avoid a malpractice suit. Their inability to help you at the most critical moment in your life
rendered you helpless, unsalvageable, and unrecognizable.

Your precious life withered into nothingness. The hospital room soon became a disinfected emptiness, the aura of you was gone. I imagine what it was like to attend your funeral, sitting with your parents, sad and solemn. We didn’t feel anything but the gloom of your final chapter.

Walking toward my bedroom, the ghost of you remains silent. As if it keeps watching my every movement, seeing what I do next.

I whisper to you in the dark that I’m sorry for not being there in your dying moments. You say there’s no need to apologize. “Whatever you did, you thought it was the right thing to do at the time. I still love you anyway..”

“It would have been much too painful to see you dying,” I say with tears forming in my eyes.

After I finish crying, I’m surprised that I no longer hear your voice. I go back to bed, and drape the C-PAP over my head and push the start button. In a few minutes, the gentle hum of the C-PAP makes me yawn and I’m finally able to drift off.

Photo by William Sun on

About the Author:

Mark Tulin is a former psychotherapist from Philadelphia who lives in Santa Barbara, California. He has two poetry books, Magical Yogis and Awkward Grace available on AmazonHe has an upcoming book of fiction, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories available in August of 2020. Mark has been featured in Ariel Chart, Amethyst Review, The Poetry Village, Page and Spine, Fiction on the Web, Terror House Magazine, Trembling with Fear, Poppy Road Review, Visitant, The Writing Disorder, Oddball Magazine, New Readers Magazine, among others.  Follow Mark at Crow On The Wire.

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