In bed, I am writing this to you in bed. I spend so much time here: eating, sleeping, fucking. Waiting for the day finish. Longing for the night to begin. Wishing that I were someone other than myself, that I was somewhere other than my bed. “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying in bed…” Supine. Sleepless. In bed there is only the passivity of time. The comfort of duty. You’re supposed to lie there, you’re supposed to lie in bed and wait for sleep to come. Dreaming, dreaming is the one thing I don’t do in bed. There are no smells in dreams, no tastes. A horizontal life.
For a period of about one month, from late February to the end of March, I read a book a day. Fiction, non-fiction; poetry, essays, plays; memoirs, novels, cookbooks—the genre didn’t matter. I longed for an escape. I read about opera singers, about witches, about revolutions, about love. My mind was tense and blank. Sleep still would not come. One night I slipped a book under my pillow and waited. All that came to me was dread.
Acedia, “the bane of solitaries.” I know this affliction well. Today what we call “depression” is understood as a system of chemicals, of synapses firing and serotonin levels falling, of pills intended to wave this pain away. Not so for the hermits, the ancient and devout. “A system of restlessness, an inability to work or to pray.” Aldous Huxley wrote an essay on the subject, as did Walter Benjamin. “An indolence of the heart.” Who prays these days? —Not me. In bed, it is easier to draw the sheets over one’s head, to take the action of inaction rather than attempt to face the day. The bed itself is an anchorage. And I myself am its anchorite.
“To sleep together”: a phrase with many meanings. First, there is the metaphoric, the implication of sex. But then there is the literal, the action that is literally falling asleep beside another person. It requires a modicum of trust, a precise sense of discipline. Once, when I was much younger than I am now, I slept beside a man who was freshly divorced. We literally slept together: I had drunk too much wine and didn’t want to drive; he took a sleeping pill and didn’t touch me once throughout the night. A week later he told me that it was all wrong, that he couldn’t see me again, that it was too intimate—sleeping with me, that is. At the time, I was crestfallen. But now, years later, I am older than him, older than his divorce—and he was very youthful. I understand. What kind of person does this, I now wonder, thinking of my younger version—what kind of person sleeps so easily beside strangers? A person who lacks consciousness. A person without a sense of self.
Rhian Sasseen lives in New York. Her fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, and her essays in Aeon, The Awl, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and more. // @RhianSasseen
Banner image by Olivia Cronk