What do you see when you’re alone in the dark, and the demons come?
– John Malkovich’s taunt to Clint Eastwood in the film In The Line Of Fire
This is the situation that we are all presented with night after night. It’s time to go to bed, so you get into your pyjamas, crawl into bed, and stare at the ceiling waiting to fall asleep. It is at that time, the few moments before sleep, where we have our most profound thoughts. And I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. Usually, the thoughts fade, and I go to sleep. But, for the past few days, they have been providing me with divine inspiration, causing me to jump out of bed, turn my computer back on, write down my latest column, turn my computer off, and go back to bed, only for the cycle to start all over again.
I think my earliest before-bed ponderance began when I was eight years old. The ending credits of The Flintstones greatly disturbed me. I would lie awake for hours wondering if Wilma heard Fred, or if Fred had to spend the night outside. Many TV shows inspired such thoughts. What did Titania say to Fox on that episode of Gargoyles? What exactly did happen to Dr. Sam Beckett after Quantum Leap? Why did they cancel Space: Above and Beyond? Soon, though, I graduated to pondering the great mysteries of the universe: why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? Is there a unified field theorem? Why exactly do men have nipples? Sometimes, my mind began to wander to the past.
For example, when I was in junior high, there was this girl. Jolene was her name. I had a huge crush on her. I think it may have even been love. Junior high was tough for me. The hormones started kicking in, and I was turning into the geek that you all know and love. Naturally, this made me the target of a lot of jokes and harassment. But Jolene was one of the few who showed me kindness. It were as though I were Quasimodo and she was the gypsy Esmeralda. As always, time marched on. We went to separate high schools and I never saw her again. Who knows? Maybe I’ve romanticized how she treated me into something it wasn’t and maybe my memories have become clouded over the years. But I do believe I loved her. My thoughts often turn to her and wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, I hope she’s happy.
And then, there was when summer ended and I returned for my third year at college. In my second year, I met these people who were living in my wing. Let’s call them Georgia, Ally, and Billy. Now when I first met them, Georgia and Billy were very much in love, and Ally was Georgia’s best friend. Then, summer came, and I worked night shifts in a gravel pit. As always, I blissfully thought that time stood still for my friends. But, when summer ended, I returned to discover that Georgia and Billy had broken up, and by the second semester, Billy was dating Ally. Of that trio, no one’s ever told me what happened that summer. All I know is it must have been a doozy, because Ally and Billy spoke Georgia’s name with such hatred, and Georgia spent all September and most of October trying to recover from the loss. It bugs me that they never trusted me to tell me what happened. I tried to ask Georgia about it one time, and all he’d say was “We broke up. That’s all you need to know.” Maybe it was just the old story: boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl have huge fight. Girl finds comfort in arms of boy’s best friend. Boy gets insanely jealous. Boy and best friend have big fight. Boy and best friend never speak to each other again. Girl and boy’s best friend live happily ever after. Boy spends rest of life alone and miserable. On the other hand, maybe it’s good that they never told me what happened. Since I was never forced to take sides, I remained friends with all three. But still….
A recent topic has been trying to figure out exactly where my life went wrong. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher hated me. She thought I had behavioral problems. She told my parents to take me to a psychiatrist to get help. The psychiatrist discovered I was gifted, and that I was just bored in class. (That’s how I remember it, anyway. My parents claim that my teacher discovered I was gifted and recommended I be taken to a specialist to have it confirmed. I still think my teacher hated me. So what if I was five and couldn’t tie my shoes yet? Was that any reason to emotionally scar me for life? But I digress.) So, I ended up spending my whole elementary years being branded gifted. At high school, I flourished in the competition-free environment, and graduated from “gifted” to “genius.” Then college began. In my first year, my average was 8.4 (out of 9). But, sometime in third year, something happened, and my marks started sliding. My graduating average was 7.2. I still try to figure out what happened in third year to make my squander my potential like I did. Maybe I started seeing there was something going on outside the classroom. Maybe my interests started to diverge. Maybe everyone was wrong all those years, and I’m just average. I’d still like to find out what my I.Q. is. For being branded “gifted” all those years ago, no one ever told me what it was.
Then I start thinking that maybe I should let go of the past, and start turning my attention towards the future. Ahh, but what future? Plotting out what to do after college would have been so much easier if I had a plan. For a while there, a lot of people were pretty adamant that I should go for my masters. But I don’t want to. Isn’t there more to life than a classroom? Let’s look at this career path: college -> masters program -> doctorate program -> professorship. See? I never leave the classroom. There’s got to be more! And that’s the problem. There’s so much more, that I don’t know what to do. Should I fulfil my boyhood dream of becoming an engineer (a person who drives trains, not a person who builds things)? Should I pursue my current dream of being a film-maker? Should I continue with writing, seeing as to how I do this every week? Should I shuck it all for the joyful simplicity of janitorial work? I just don’t know.
And then, as I stare at my ceiling, the answers begin to come to me. Like putting on my glasses, everything starts to come into focus. I reach the verge of having a life-altering, perception-changing epiphany. And then I fall asleep.
Why do we tease ourselves like this? We carefully analyze our past, looking for the patterns. We try to project those patterns into the future, to see where we are headed. All we end up doing is generating more questions. And the more questions we have, the longer we spend staring at our ceilings contemplating the answers. But, perhaps, we are not meant to come upon the answers. They are meant to be discovered, out there in the world. And that’s why we fall asleep at the crucial moment. To prepare us for the day of discovery.