Also known as somnambulism, the act of walking in one's sleep. Many times, other activities, such as talking or interacting with objects, are involved. It is most commonly experienced in childhood, with 1% to 6% of all children experiencing recurring sleepwalking. At least 10% of all people have experienced sleepwalking at least once, though many may not know it.

During a sleepwalking episode, the sleepwalker's eyes are usually open, but not focused. While the world it perceived, somnambulist is still dreaming, and thus interacts with the real world in strange ways. Sleepwalking is not generally hazardous, though it can be frightening to both the somnambulist and witnesses. On the other hand, a court case in Queensland (Australia) determined that a murder committed by a sleepwalker was considered involuntary and therefore unpunishable.

You were always so shy, that's what I first remember. The shifty smiles, the passed notes, the endless collages and mix tapes, we had to start somewhere. Somewhere between calculus and chemistry you handed me that first mix tape, and continued down the hallway. I didn't see you for the rest of the day. These days were before our infinite phone calls, punk rock proms and car trips; these were our first days.

In every class that day, I carefully read over and over the tracks written on the back in your crooked printing, not recognizing half of them. I studied the collaged cover for secret messages and meaningful pictures, but found nothing but David Bowie's smirking face and George Bush's senseless quotes. At home, with my textbooks opened, I slid your cassette into my stereo. Song after song I listened. I must have listened to the tape 50 times that day, imagining you in your room filled with posters, guitars and computers recording each song on for me. Carefully hidden between tracks by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead was a song I'd never heard before, a song that started with "I fell in love..." I rewound the song over and over. The track list said it was "Sleepwalking" by Modest Mouse. I listened to the song in my best friend's car as we drove too fast on the snowy streets of our empty town. I'd listen to it while falling asleep, or while getting ready for school; it was the perfect soundtrack for anything. I listened to it until it began to sound slightly warped.

Things escalated from there. Our lives began to warp. Things turned from smiles in the hallway at school to cautious phone calls to picnics in the park and trips to Canada. But every time I hear it, on the radio or on a CD, I think of that time right before I really knew you. I think of us, half-asleep wandering through the loud hallways at school, each searching for someone or something that would complete us. We must have been looking in all the wrong places.

"I fell in love and/ I needed a road map/ to find out where you lived/ so excited now." Maybe I didn't need a road map, but I needed a hint. A hint from your overwhelmingly self-conscious mind to clue my insecure subconscious that this wasn't a one-way infatuation, but that there was more. I was so excited.

Our convenience stores were filled with the white trash boys, and our nights were filled with raiding liquor stashes. We were finally alive. You filled my sleepy days. You were something so powerful I finally felt awake. For weeks every time I thought of you I would hear those first opening notes, so awkward but so sweet. The song, a living tale of the part of ourselves we finally found. Lyrics so meaningful to me wrapped up in a simple melody that never stopped the words from meaning less. I've bought some of their CDs, but never the one with that song. I've heard thousands of bands that sound similar to Modest Mouse, but it's never the same. Nothing quite compares to the day I first heard this little song hidden on your cassette.

I don't have the cassette any more, somewhere between living and moving I must have misplaced it. But, I still have you taped on my wall, on the other end of my phone and in my mind. My days of wasting time, of waiting for you, before I knew who you were, are over. You've woken me up.

The first novel by the young English journalist Julie Myerson, published in 1994. It significantly draws on her experience of her own cold, abusive, and cruel father, who committed suicide, a subject already often alluded to in her weekly columns in The Independent. Here is how it begins:
Ede remarks, shortly after my father dies, that suicide is a death which leaves its traces, and at the time I find the idea almost comforting. Because I think I know exactly what she means.

It's only much later that I realize that I never did -- that neither of us knew anything, that his effect was only just beginning. For when you make your own death as he did, you deliberately stir the black silt on the bottom -- disturbing all that debris which should be left down there in darkness -- and it floats up, half-roused, to wreak its own particular damage.

But I don't have the benefit of this knowledge at the start. What I do have is a feeling of alarm, a hit panic which wakes me at night, a creeping certainty that something isn't quite right.

In the end I distil it down to a single icy thought: that if he really is dead and gone for ever, then why the hell don't I feel better?

Susan is heavily pregnant, married to the competent and paternal Alistair, but not entirely happy. She is a painter, he a businessman; he does not understand her painting, and is condescending. Through her friend Ede the gallery owner she meets a young artist Lenny and somehow they begin an affair, despite the fact that she is by now monstrous and hormonal. Yet Lenny loves her in all this and knows how to treat her. They have passionate sex; they are pained, and confused.

And then there's the ghost. The little boy, his leg enclosed in calipers, clack clack clack across the floor, who comes to taunt and torment her. He is her own father, and the story moves into the past to explain his mother Queenie, cold and selfish and cruel. This seems to resonate throught the generations. Susan and her two sisters Sara and Penny have to cope with winding up their father's estate; but Penny, the favourite, the only one he would speak to at the end, seems to be turning into another loveless and heartless one.

This is an extraordinarily beautifully written book. The matter is intensely unpleasant; having read Julie Myerson's columns and seen her in person at a book reading, having exchanged smiles with this lovely vibrant young mother, I don't know what to make of such a tormenting tale, and can only hope that by writing she exorcised some of her demons.

Sleep"walk`ing, n.

Walking in one's sleep.

 

© Webster 1913.

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