Follow by Email

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sleepwalker at Chiller Theatre

We had a deal. I would try my best to not get up in the middle of the night all night long to watch the test pattern on the big TV in the den, and he would let me watch monster movies with him on Saturday night. I demanded every night but he explained they weren't on every night and Daddy needed his sleep. He also asked me to stop jumping up reaching for the chain-pull to the ceiling light because I'd snapped it off several times and moved the easy chairs together to climb on them and click it on directly from the beveled glass fixture itself and then leave the chairs there in the dark in the middle of the night for him to trip over on his way to his middle of the night job but he didn't understand that I was afraid of stepping on lava so the only way I wouldn't go up in flames was by commuting throughout the house via furniture. It all seemed very cut and dry to me and I didn't really get why he was being so obstinate. I was four. He was 34. God, man, grow up.

They couldn't do anything about my sleepwalking though, well except install slide locks at the top of every door leading outside because they'd found me in the street or garden in my granny nightgown at 3am standing in the moonlight eyes wide open but vividly dreaming. This is not something an elderly neighbor with a heart condition wants to see when she puts her cat out or something else for my father to find upon returning home from a swing shift. They also couldn't negotiate with me when in my sleep I'd drag chairs over to the doors to climb on them (lava, too) and unlock the doors and go outside anyway,. I suppose that in my dreams it made perfect sense.

When I was six-months-old my father decided it was time for me to sleep through the night and thus began his fakakta Get Elaine To Sleep mission which failed or succeeded spectacularly depending on who you asked because YES, I did go to sleep and YES, I did sleep through the night but it didn't stop me from getting up and doing everything anyway. At six months, mobility is an issue but there does come a point in development when cribs are the toddler equivalent of K2 and therefore must be conquered no matter the personal risk: bruised tush, black eye, bloody nose--many casualties including the tragic broken bodies of colleagues I was unable to bring back to home base, my teddy bear (Teddy) and doll baby (Smakata which is Polish for 'snot-nose' a favorite endearment of my Grandmother for me), and a Dawn doll who not by her own fault was missing a head. I also held in my possession specific Tinker Toy and Lego parts that technically belonged to my brother David, parts that were uncommon and necessary to assemble anything remotely resembling a 'thing' so were of great value in terms of currency, negotiation and manipulation. I was an intrepid, shrewd, if somewhat reckless adventurer. I knew how to haggle with the natives and learned their primitive lingo. It was at this time when I became an insomniac.

Either I would sleep and walk, or not sleep at all so at night I was either dreaming technicolor musicals rivaling any Bollywood extravaganza (while exploring) or use my imagination while wide awake to dream up and plot my future adventures and any revenge against anyone who may have recently wronged me. I also pondered the meaning of life and what would happen after I died, like would my 'being' cease to exist or go somewhere else or if my brothers would consider playing Gilligan's Island using their bunk beds as the pitiful broken Minnow because I wanted more than anything to be Ginger. I didn't like her at all. I liked Lovey, Mrs. Thurston Howell III because she was the only one with a partner on the whole friggin island for the entire length of the series, while no one else seemed to pair up (well except for the Skipper and Gilligan-not that there's anything wrong with that) which I thought was really stupid. There is strength in numbers (as evidenced by my siblings and extended family) and maybe if they did they could have built a new boat especially since the Professor could make anything out of coconuts including a shortwave radio which incidentally didn't get them off the island either. The whole thing was frustrating but Ginger had the best wardrobe so of course I had to 'be her' when we played. Then during my midnight musings I would look to up to find my father standing in my doorway and say softly, 'Elaine, go to sleep.' and I'd roll over and pretend. Until Saturday night.

On WPIX in New York from 1971-1982 old thrillers, monster movies and horror movies would be aired on Chiller Theatre. It actually began during the 60's with an on-air host and then eventually morphed into a six-fingered claymation hand rising out of the mists replete with spooky music as the opening for the show. Then they played some good but mostly godawful movies. Other little girls had puppies and kittens posters on their walls. I had Christopher Lee and Vincent Price and various pages from Monster Magazine taped to mine and would 'borrow' my uncle's monster mags to read in the basement whenever I had a chance and he wasn't in his room. My dad and I would settle in on the couch and I would snuggle up against him. He was big and warm and cuddly and he would put his arm around me and tell me I was hot like a little furnace and made him sweat and he'd drink lots of ice water but he still let me cling to him like a monkey and ask him incessantly, 'What did that man mean, Daddy' and, "What did he say, Daddy' to the degree where he never had a moment's peace or got to see any movie all the way through, in my presence.

I tried hard to keep awake. I practiced keeping my eyes open and holding them open and considered using Lincoln Logs to prop them but though better of it but eventually sleep would overtake me and finally my father would shut off the TV and carry me to bed and I would fuss and he'd tell me to go to sleep and sometimes, eventually I did.

I cherish those times with  my dad. Now he's become really cantankerous and misses my mother terribly and calls me constantly to ask me how I'm doing or to complain about 'some shit on the Food Channel'. I  don't see him as often as I should because I need to take him in small doses and he worries too much about me which makes me feel horribly guilty but we talk a lot and every now and then I do go over there and watch a scary movie with him and he calls me his little girl, his little sleepwalker, his little dreamer. He says it proudly and with such love. And when I can't sleep at night, when the Ambien and the Xanax and even a martini doesn't help, I hear his voice softly saying, 'Go to sleep, Elaine' and sometimes I do.


  1. Once again, I can SEE what you write, as I read it. And it feels more real to me, sometimes, than my OWN childhood...