I don't think this was what she meant…

by Jennifer on February 5, 2009

…when Marilyn Monroe said, “Who said nights were for sleep?”

courtesy Google Images

I’m really not one of those I-clean-when-I’m mad people. If you saw my house, you’d know that for sure. (Real life friends, I can hear you laughing.)

But insomnia can make strange (out-of-)bedfellows of me and cleaning tasks. I wasn’t really even upset last night, just unsettled and off in some way.

Maybe my insomnia found its legs last night when I watched The Secret Life of Bees, and my heart broke a little. Or maybe a few days before, when I couldn’t help feeling that the wind in someone else’s sails came from the kind of charmed sea breeze that I fear will never fill my own.

Or maybe it’s the image of a girl who appeared to me last week. She walked right in front of me (in my head, I’m not hallucinating. Yet.), and I see her every day now.

I have just one image of her, a rectangle of an image, with her in it. The day is warm, and she’s in a grassy yard or field, and the air around her dances and buzzes with the things that heavy summer air is thick enough to hold up – bugs, butterflies, sunlit particles of the what the day stirred up from the ground. She wears a dark, flowered dress with a full skirt and lace at the edges. She doesn’t look up at me, though she’s turned toward me and the sun behind her lights her blond hair into a curly halo. I think there’s a small dog or a cat beside her, which may be what has her attention.

That’s all I have so far, but I think I just saw her walk into my novel (it’s getting a dusting-off – which I decided was the saner choice, when the other was to shred or burn it.). She seems to be the younger version of my protagonist, but seems altogether separate from her, too.

A thing that makes sense, because most of the time, I don’t feel like the same person who lived my early years. I feel like at least three different people have lived these 40 years of my life. (But not in a way that will probably require a mental health professional to evaluate me, at least not for that.)

So I thought of her, too, last night when I couldn’t sleep. At two a.m. when I was washing the last of the pots that had collected in the sink. When I scrubbed at the cooktop. When I polished a wooden trunk that sits next to my sofa, and then when I had to get online and research its origin after opening the lid and finding the original label. (I tend to micro-obsess when I clean, rather than giving it all a once-over.)

And I thought of her again, and all the rest of it, when I swept the floor because vacuuming would have been too loud. Too loud for my kids, who slept, and too loud for me and the noise of my thoughts.

It was three o’clock before I crawled into bed next to the Girl, who had migrated to my bed hours before. I let her stay, and she snuggled into my side.

By then, the house had been quiet for hours.

And, finally, my thoughts – exhausted, wrung out like a sponge in my hands – were quiet, too.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Landon February 5, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Laughing? I’m not laughing. I don’t know what you’re talking about. 🙂

I can’t wait to hear about the girl!

Smalltown Mom February 5, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I’ve had many sleepless nights, but haven’t used the time to house clean. Yet.

Stacie February 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I know that feeling of being unsettled in the middle of the night and if I were to lay there long enough that unsettled feeling would turn into anxiety. So i open my book and read…maybe you should boot up your computer and write. It seems you’ve got something stirring in that brain of yours…

Oh and the whole trunk thing with the label…I do that all of the time. I get totally side tracked by stuff like that.

the mama bird diaries February 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm

So wonderful. Love this.

I do clean when I’m mad. Super awesome way to get the apartment clean.

flutter February 5, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Oh honey.

anymommy February 5, 2009 at 10:21 pm

I have exactly the same type of insomnia, thoughts going crazy, everything seems so urgent. In the morning, you wonder what all the fuss was about. You wrote about it beautifully.

V-Grrrl February 6, 2009 at 5:59 am

Most of the time my insomnia is a quiet thing, and I lie in the dark, listen to my husband breathe, and then think of people I love sleeping far away. I hold them in my thoughts and imagine they can feel my presence.

Often my cleaning jags are sparked by depression or anxiety or stress in my marriage. It’s as if I believe I can fix my life if I fix my house.

The girl…interesting. I don’t venture into fiction, but last summer I wrote a poem with a character that was sitting on the deck smoking and she came to life for me for a while, inhabited my imagination, though I never explored her story further.

phd in yogurtry February 6, 2009 at 6:39 am

I used to do a lot of that middle-of-night cleaning. Mostly inspired by that rarity in my life called “quiet house.” But yes, stress and worry and sometimes anger. And that good old friend called “catching up” because I procrastinated all the day long. I used to like to surprise my husband, give him the gift of waking up to a clean house. But I don’t do much of that late night cleaning these days. I’m slowing down. It takes too great a toll on me so I resist.

And as for your muse? I hope you find her, more clearly and share more about her with us.

Daryl February 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

If I cleaned when I was angry/upset our apartment would be spotless … sigh … and I too tend to get distracted .. cleaning is boring its easy to get distracted

Was Secret Life a good movie? The book was amazingly good. I dont want to be disappointed.

And I am sorry to hear of your MIL injury; my aunt broke her hip a week ago and is waiting to be moved to ‘rehab’ where no doubt she will not do as told … I adore her, she’s a rebel but this time its not a good thing.

Gypsy February 6, 2009 at 8:55 am

That was lovely.

If I cleaned when I was mad or unsettled or worried, my house would be spotless. Sigh.

Jessica February 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Listen ,the next time this happens to you, please come over to my house, it could really use you.

ByJane February 6, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Oh wow…

Heather February 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I am very, very rarely in the mood to clean–happy, sad, mad whatever.

I am often up at night when I should be sleeping and my mind will not shut off though.

JCK February 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I think some of the best, creative stuff comes up when you are cleaning. At least, that is true for me. It doesn’t make me clean more often either…

Go with this image. It is speaking to you and sounds very vivid in your mind. Take it and run!

As for being 3 persons over 40 years? Sounds normal. Perfectly normal to me.

Louise February 11, 2009 at 8:22 pm

There is always something beneficial about a night of insomnia. I always hate them, but later I can see it. Giving your little blonde girl some thought must have been it. (Not finding the label to the trunk. The obsessing is why I don’t clean.)

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