Warren Zevon released a song many years ago entitled, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” As the title suggests, the lyrics espouse a certain joie de vivre approach. Some call it a “live hard, die young” attitude that so many edgy, alternative musicians embody – musicians like Zevon, Osbourne, and Bieber. You know, a take-no-prisoners philosophy toward life, save nothing for a rainy day, never play it safe if sorry is an option. Forget trying to keep up with the Jones’ – screw their daughter instead! To recap, the song is your basic feel good ditty – that is, if you need something to make you feel good after waking up face down in a pile of someone else’s puke.
Recently, I popped Warren into my under counter CD player, and immediately shot back to a time when sleeping was, for me, a complete drag and definitely something I could put off until later. I was young. I was single. I had parties to get to before dawn, and classes to attend after the sun came up. As I listened to the lyrics, my thoughts drifted to the Greatest Weekend Ever, (of my twenties, that is), visiting friends at Cal, hitting the Big Game, then the streets of Berkeley.
Just as I was getting my nostalgia on, smiling at the mental image that was forming of my own self dancing on a table at Golden Boy, wearing a Heineken cardboard six-pack hat I’d bought off a street vendor, another image faded in – one that expressed a very different connotation of the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
I shook my head, banged on my temple with the heel of my hand, but it was no use. Like a circa-70’s TV that goes fuzzy at midnight, no amount of adjusting the rabbit ears wrapped in tin foil could get the Berkeley channel to come back into focus. Instead, my mind started showing re-runs of projectile vomiting bestowed upon me by my infant son – at two o’clock in the morning, after being up for the third time that night, trying to get the little life-sucker to, well, suck. Finally, after being oh-so-close to dozing off while he slurped, the sound of my baby throwing up the entire contents of left breasticle chased elusive slumber away, yet again.
Then, it hit me: the most vivid, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” phase of life was not in my twenty-something years; it was as a new mother. Granted, that was 13 years ago, but let me just say that some memories, no matter how much we’d like them to, don’t fade.
Enter baby number two, the same maternal-nocturnal emissions, sleepless nights, groggy days and the absence of that old friend I flipped off one too many times: Mr. Sandman.
The toddler years proved to be just as clever at keeping a long winter’s nap out of reach. Just when I felt like I was indeed dead, and therefore, ready for a little shut-eye, the pitter-patter of little feet barreling down the hall at 3 a.m. reminded me that death, and therefore sleep, was still out of reach.
Assuming the house must be on fire by the way my daughter was beating it down the hall, I’d jump out of bed, throw a sweatshirt over the sexy one I was already sleeping in, just in time to catch a two-year old flying through the air into my arms.
“Huh? What are you doing?”
“Saying hi! HI!”
“Hi. Okay, back to bed.”
“Want to play Hi-Ho Cherry-O?”
“No. Bed. C’mon.”
These days, the opportunity for sleep is greater, I admit. Outside of an occasional sleepwalker roaming the halls asking why George Washington parked his skateboard in her closet, the nights are quiet. I take advantage of them. If I’m down at the local pub, and I see it’s 10 p.m., I get nervous. “Let’s get out of here,” I whisper to my husband, pointing at the clock. He gasps in horror when he sees the time and we sneak out the side door, racing for our Tempurpedic.
As I listened to Warren finish up his song, I wondered how I might feel differently today, had I banked a few more hours of sleep, back when I honestly didn’t even know what the point of it was. Fewer gray hairs? A better complexion? A more tender pot roast?
I guess I’ll never know. What I do know is that I now have a greater respect for my pillow. Now, I’ll sleep when I’m tired.