Insomnia, airplane rides and giving thanks

Dec. 7, 2022, 12:17 a.m.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep again. They say that gratitude helps people sleep. That’s one cure I haven’t tried yet. When breathing exercises and melatonin tablets fail, waves of thoughts take me under and sweep me against the rocks. I think of everything I haven’t done, everything I’ve done, everything I wish I had done differently and everything I wish I had.

I mean, it’s hard to drift off when your mind is flooded with seawater:

i. Sometimes, I wish the reflection in the mirror looked more familiar. Sometimes, I’ll walk into the bathroom and see a stranger on the wall, a floating body with a face and a name. Back home, I was the only one who spelled my name with a “K.” It’s stupid, I know, but here there are so many different versions of me, so many people who love writing the way I do, who listen to the same music, who dream the same dreams. I’m questioning everything I love. I haven’t written in months; my stories aren’t big enough anymore. Often, I don’t like the stranger on the wall. I have this bad habit of tearing at the skin on my fingers, as if I’d be able to find something underneath, as if I can purge myself by bleeding from my thumbs. If only I were as malleable as candle wax — I’d give almost anything to burn brighter.

ii. These days, I often forget what home means, where it is, if I have one at all. It’s not amnesia: I remember parts of Michigan in painful detail: the trinkets on my bookshelves, the postcards and posters and fairy lights on my walls. My piano in the living room, where my cat might be sleeping. In the kitchen, my mom might be making yuan xiao while my dad might be watching a football game on the television. Out the door and around the corner to the small grocery store where my brother might be buying ice cream. The swings at the elementary school. The sunlight is always gold there in the afternoons, nothing like the polar northern-California weather, where spring changes to autumn within a day. But home seems so far away now, growing hazy day by day, seventeen years held in the hands of a state two thousand miles away.

iii. Maybe it’s because these days, I feel like I don’t have anything to call home. The rooms I used to stay in collapsed, and it seems like everyone has found each other already. Too often, I find myself sitting in my room. Sometimes, I’ll hear laughter behind the closed door, but it’s too scary to open it. I tell myself it’s safer that way, with the door closed, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to step out and find someone, something.

Tonight, I’m on a flight back to Michigan.

I’m tired, but I still can’t fall asleep, even during the day. It’s hard to drift off when your mind is flooded with seawater, but I’m in the sky, so close to the sunset that if I could sit on the edge of the wing I think my feet would touch the wispy clouds. Eric is sleeping next to me, and I’m envious of him. At least for me, counting sheep never works, so maybe tonight I’ll count my blessings instead.

i. I think I might have lied when I said I don’t know where home is. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight from California and a forty-hour drive from the Detroit airport. Even when I’m in the car, I’m already home. My dad bought pastries from the bakery 85 Degrees C, and, our stomachs empty, my mom and I eat two each.

ii. “I can’t believe I’m here. it feels so surreal.”

“I can’t believe it, either. Two days ago you were still in California.” Daniel and I sit by the door in Kura. I don’t even remember what we talked about for four hours, but everything felt new and familiar at the same time. Screaming in the Novi parking lot, singing to Taylor Swift in the car, the Christmas lights in November. In California, a small cup of boba is at least five dollars. Here, I get a large matcha on the house. I love November nights, Christmas, Taylor, and matcha, and I’m sure everyone else does, too. Perhaps they also write about it. It doesn’t matter. The taste of green tea and milk is bittersweet and I hold it in my mouth.

Noah smiles at me. “No sugar?” That night, it was twenty degrees Fahrenheit in Michigan. The hostess warned us it would be cold, and it was, but it made the udon that much warmer.

iii. Time keeps stretching itself for me on Wednesday. All of us— Anita, Gabby, Angelin, Justin— piled into Pastor Elliot’s apartment kitchen with plates of kimbap. We pass the Japanese mayo around, followed by small talk. Anita’s hair is red now, and it looks pretty. Because there’s still an hour before Ellie’s plane lands, my dad and I kill time at the nearest Walmart. We wait while the sun sets around us in the airport parking lot. When I finally find Ellie, we exchange gifts. A bouquet of flowers and a box of Levain cookies. The autumn night runs its breath over me.

iv. Coincidentally, it’s Thanksgiving. I’m seven again and my teacher’s asking us all, “What are you thankful for?” All of this, all of this. New York cookies for breakfast at noon, watching 20th Century Girl in the living room and crying three times, my brother dumping all his Halloween candy on my bedroom floor, talking on the swings in the dark, going home to find Thanksgiving dinner cooked by my mom — yes, all of this and more.

v. I hate the crowds, but we buy Ellie her carry-on suitcase on Black Friday. I hate that I have to leave home again, but I’ll be back in two weeks. I’ve already promised Lindsay and Raha I’d visit. My friends on campus ask me when I’ll be back. Maybe it’s possible to have a second home.

vi. I don’t know why I’ve had such bad luck with airports recently. My suitcase fell down the escalator. It cracked and the handle snapped clean, right outside of security. I fell to my knees and could feel panicked tears welling up in my throat. My dad calls me, asking if I got past security yet, and I struggle with the shattered handle, scraping my skin. He tells me that it’s okay, that suitcases break all the time during travel. I get the handle down.

vii. The pinprick lights are now so bright they make my heart ache. I love aisle seats and Michigan. I want to sleep.

I want my eyes to droop and flutter with the flickering light of the candles my friends gave me for my birthday— I love candles. I love Lindsay, Grace, and Evelyn. I want to fall asleep, nestled in my stuffed animals. I’m here. There’s so much thanks to give. I want to be okay with desire. I want to know that it’s okay if I’m consumed by it, so long as at the same time I can still want nothing at all. I want to fall asleep holding you tight. I want to fall asleep dreaming of everything I already have.

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