SOMETIMES IF you've been awake long enough you really don't mind nightmares anymore. I lied there in the dark and waited for one and listened as the sirens wailed on outside my window. The sirens were running downtown on the FDR. The highway was closed to regular traffic but open to emergency vehicles and the ambulances and police drove hard all day and all night long up and down the FDR on their way to try and find any more bodies that might still be moving beneath the torn down remains that was the World Trade.
The sirens weren't so bad really. The helicopters had been worse but they weren't so bad anymore now either. I lied there and thought about the sirens and the way they sounded going up and down the highway. It was nice after a while.
The whole thing seemed like some bad nightmare to some people but not me. I had almost forgotten what nightmares were. I lied there and remembered one I had after seeing Silence of the Lambs when I was younger. That one was awful and I had woken up sweaty wet in then night to that one for weeks. Then there was the one I had for years about my family and the whole of us being locked up and chased and killed by Charles Manson. It was like a real bad M.C. Escher painting and no matter where you ran it was always the same. I really never knew why I had that one. But I had it good and long and it lasted for years, but I don't know how many exactly. I knew that when it was there though that I tried my best to not fall asleep. You are safe and sound if you never close your eyes
I lied in my bed on top of the sheets and wished I could close my eyes and sleep. I had tried but it didn't matter. The sirens were there and I hoped they would last all night so I had something to listen to in the dark. It had been a few days since I closed my eyes at night, maybe four or five. I had been sleeping during the day when I could. It was hard though, and didn't last too long when I did get a chance. I remembered falling asleep during football games on Sundays when it was light out. Its perfect to fall asleep right towards the middle of the second quarter with the sun coming in and wake up late in the third. There was no football this week though. It was cancelled along with everything else. Maybe they didnít know football helped people sleep.
I shifted my pillow and listened to the sirens. There were several Hummers on my street earlier today. They were the Army ones converted to ambulances with the tops attached and the big red crosses on them. They gave a real official feel to the whole scene in front of the hospital. After all the news it hadn't seemed so real. The reports kept coming in though. Those trucks made it very real to me. They were a dirty shock to me and meant a hell of a lot more than the people talking at the cafť or the memorial of pictures and candles that lined the wall of the hospital next to the emergency room drive-in . The trucks looked odd on the street, parked next to civilian cars and made the whole thing real in your stomach and achy and hard and burned a bit as you passed them walking east to the river and saw a few more of them with soldiers in them and then police cars and then at the water the police boats moving down the river as the Coast Guard cutters moved on up north in the cooling September evening.
The Hummers didn't have sirens but I wished they did. I lied awake and thought about the sirens they would attach to them. I got a cigarette from my desk and lit it and smoked it back in bed. It was good and a simple joy when you can't sleep. In the dark I couldn't see the smoke. One time I had read somewhere that blind men don't smoke because they couldn't see the smoke. I thought this was odd, but it seemed to make some sense. After all of the news, I kinda liked not seeing the smoke anymore. It made the smoking in bed better and different. I smoked another and listened hard for the sirens but there were no more running. I listened again but didn't hear the helicopters landing outside either.
In the last few nights, I had taught myself a new game to play when it fell quiet like this. When the sirens had stopped for a while I would lie in my bed and think hard about a scene I could remember and work all the way through it the best I could. When you do this for a few days, you start to learn how many things you had forgotten that were once very wonderful things. For me most of the time is was the hunting I had done in Pennsylvania. The first night it was not easy and I only could remember the gun and the first duck I had taken down. The second night I was much better and had the field and the trees lining it and then the pond I had come upon with my boys Matthew and Ian and I remembered squatting down in the wet morning grass and pulling up the borrowed shotgun with the worn wood stock to my chest and then my shoulder. I worked my way through the whole first shot. It wasn't a good shot. But I remembered it anyway. I guess you always remember the first shot.
It had been a terrible shot.
I remembered a lot more the next night lying awake. We had gone up to the pond early after driving across a few fields and seeing nothing doing in my Jeep and then parking to the far side of the last field near the tree line. I remembered the way the ducks looked flying over head after I swore they would never ever take off. They did and I had pulled the shotgun around too fast, it slipping on my shoulder as I fired, and made a terrible first shot that went nowhere. The second one had been better as I settled down and hit a fat, brown and white one. It fell into the thick grass on the far side of the pond and I had walked to pick it up and slide it into my vest while the dogs splashed into the water for the others. Then I had the wind and the trees turned orange and yellow and the dogs and the way they smelled like the hay barns they slept in and I could see the birds in their mouths and them wet and cold and the beer bottles Matt had brought wet and cold in your hand and the good beer hard like cold metal in your mouth early in the morning.
I could remember all of this if I lied still long enough. I had forgotten about the field but now I had it and worked to paint in the edges and fill the whole picture and make it mine again. This was a very good thing in the night and I worked to make it mine. Sometimes once you got started the sirens started again and it was hard to keep it up. Sometimes I just smoked and listened to them ringing. They were clear and real and easy. There were still no sirens running though.
I lit another cigarette and then thought about all the girls I had been with in the last months. There were a good amount of them and this game started off easier but was never as good as the hunting. I remembered some of them and pretended to date them for real and play out the scenes in my head of the life we would have but this always ended the same way and I knew it before I started so it was never much fun. After a while some of the girls would slide into the others and get blurry and I would lose them for a long time. So then if it was going bad I would remember all of the things we had done in the nights and this was better for a while. I could remember only a few of the things, since not many were much. The ones that were good lasted a while and made you sweaty and tired and after the shower and back in bed you were wide awake and didn't mind if they were still there as long as they were sleeping. When they were there I was always glad to be alone after a while. I don't think they would have liked my sirens.
It's really awful when it stays so quiet for too long. There were no birds in the courtyard and no noise at all tonite. I wanted to make a drink but didn't want to get out of bed again. Maybe it was three I thought. It would be good if it were. All these nights I lied there awake I couldn't look at the clock. It was another game I tried. It was easy and you just wished that the sun would rise and you could go to sleep. It was easier than remembering the girls and kissing and the fields and the ducks and the pheasants with their black eyes dead and beautiful looking. It was easy and unlike all of the other things you remembered it had a true reward at the end of it.
Maybe it was three. I had been lying there for a while and the black darkness was still there. Morning seemed two or three hours away but who knew anymore. I waited for the sirens but there were none.
I moved on after women to think about who I could say some prayers for tonight. When you think of prayers, which I had just learned, you can always make a good run and take a long, long time if you do it right. If you think about all of the people you know then you have a while to work through them all, even if you only say a simple, plain prayer for every one of them. I said those kinds. I don't know why I thought about this but when I did it was too good to let go. So I laid there and prayed. There were so many people if you went back far enough but I could only pray about the people who I had seen very recently. There was the deli guy who sold the good coffee at night and the sandwich guy on the other street. They were both Arab or close to it, but they made some good stuff, so I said a prayer for them both. Dear God in Heaven, if you are there and hear me please bless the Egyptian man who makes the coffee dear God and please keep him safe and sound and make sure he is there every day to make the coffee good and strong. I like it strong God and not many people make it good like that. So please God make him ok tonight. Please God look out for him and well, Iím sure you know what to do God. And the sandwich guy too. Bless his Indian or Muslim self Lord God. He is a good man and always smiles and make sure he is good too and God bless him too. I love you God and thank you.
I said a few more prayers and then my eyes were heavy but wouldn't close. So I worked at praying some more prayers for friends and some other people who I knew. I wondered if the Arabs were sleeping tonight. They must be. It was late. But who knew. So I went on with the prayers. After a little while I couldn't pray anymore. I shifted the pillow and then lit another cigarette. It had been a lot of work but it was still very dark and I had run out of prayers.
Maybe tomorrow would be better. I was awake again for real and had nothing left so I smoked and listened and hoped the sirens would start again soon.