sleepwalking

sleepwalking

By: Juliet Wenzel

when they say that sleepwalkers don’t remember/ what they mean to say is that they often can’t/a half-conscious brain/cannot form a whole from anything/ if memory exists in the body/and you spend so much time walking/ then remembering is stretching a strained muscle/

your body is trying to tell you something/but you are never conscious enough to hear/ you fill in the gaps with your mother’s stories of ghosts/ I heard footsteps last night/ Did you come downstairs/ No/ there must be ghosts in this house then/she laughs/

she likes to speak of uninvited guests in the house/she lists her proof/cabinets left open/ mugs moved to a different shelf in the cupboard/ eventually you begin to piece together/ where your body goes at night/someone left the toaster out/ you did/ someone left the stove light on /you did/someone unlocked the front door/ you did/

your mother tells you of the first time she found you/ standing motionless in the middle of the kitchen/ staring straight ahead/ as if stuck in time/ it was if you couldn’t see me/ she said/ she knew that you weren’t awake/ because of how slow your response to her voice/she brought you back to bed and tucked you in/ waited until you looked asleep again/ in the morning she found you on the floor of your closet/ you told her/ it was safer in there/

your brother tells you of another time/ he wakes to you walking in circles in front of his bed/ calling out for Jenna/ who’s Jenna? / you don’t know/ you said she needed help & you couldn’t find her/ your brother is confused/ scared/ probably says something stupid/ about how weird you are/ looking for people you don’t know/ in your sleep/

one morning your mother tells you/you came downstairs last night and yelled at me/you do not remember? / you don’t/ she says you asked about your father/ you said that you saw him/ you did/ I told you he’s not here/ he is/he was/ you screamed at me/ I tried to calm you down/ but you were so angry/ your brother had to help me carry you back to bed/

when they say you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker/ what they really mean to say is/ it is often better to delay the shock/ the breaking of the trance/ sometimes it is safer/ to bring them back to bed/ sometimes this doesn’t/work/

once/your mother hears the water/running/in the upstairs bathroom/she has to break the lock/open/ with a knife/ she finds you in the bathtub/ yelling that someone is coming/ she tries to get you out/ you hit her/ she has to yell to wake you/ you cry from the shock of the tiled floor/ soaking wet in your pajamas/ for weeks after this/ the doorknob has a large gap in the middle/ a slashed eye/ until your mother finally replaces it/with an unlockable one/

you start taking benadryl every night to help you sleep/ your mother insists you take four/ watches you swallow them/ some nights you take more than that/ you start taking hot baths before bed/ to relax your body/ or to shock your muscles with heat/ to disorient them you think/ the baths are nice/ the medicine thickens the lids of your eyes/ you pray that they shut & stay shut/

some nights they do/ on these nights your sleep is thick/disrupted/you have a recurring dream/ a man with your father’s face/ and a smaller body/ the same cancerous shadow in the shape of a squished/spider purpling/above his eyebrow/ he says wants to show you a trick/ he opens a door/ a skeleton on the ground/ your sister’s skin in a pile to the right/ as if a costume peeled off/ the man laughs/he says you’re next/ you can hear your sister’s voice/ or what you remember of it/ he grabs you by the legs/ you cannot move them yourself/ you try to grab the carpet but it rips up like grass/you try to grab your arm/ but your skin starts peeling away like wallpaper/ you wake up screaming/you wake up wondering whose house you are in/ your mom’s voice/ a bucket of rocks/shaking/as she tells you you’re alright, it was just a dream/ later you find shadows of fingernails dug into your arms/ tiny frowns/souvenirs

you struggle to piece together/ what is real/ and imagined/ if you wake with the same fear/as your half-awake brain/ does that make it real/ is nothing real/ at all/ you picture a painting made with string/there is an outline of a shape/as the string is placed onto paper/ but then it is pulled away/colors quickly gaining unintended dimensions/lines curl and bend/ it thins in the middle/ the center is lost/ you are left with wet string/ 

you begin to think you exist in two bodies/ one that leaves you at night/ and one that returns with scars you cannot remember making/would you rather have the in-between details/ or would you rather just sleep/without fear/ you think you rather/die/ 

your memory a needle stuck on a record/ scraping the grooves/where sound should come/ out/but has been extracted/ scratched away/ instead an endless static/ gurgling/

Juliet Wenzel is a writer and educator currently studying English/Creative Writing at SUNY Geneseo. As a preschool teacher she understands the magic in what a child collects & saves in their pockets, the frustration that -c and -k words sound the same, and the necessity of questioning everything. In her poems and essays Juliet often finds herself exploring her own questions, often relating to the complexities of memory, lasting grief, and mental illness. She gets excited about word etymologies, states of consciousness, and snowfall. Juliet currently resides on Long Island where she teaches preschool full-time.

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