When I was little, I was afraid of falling asleep.
There were glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, and I’d lie awake staring at them for hours. When my parents bought the house, I had wanted that room (rather than the almost identical one next door) because of the stars. My bed was a bunk bed, with a desk and set of drawers where the bottom bunk should be. If I sat up in bed and stretched my arm to its full length, I could almost touch the stars on my ceiling.
My fear of sleep was both simple and completely illogical. I was worried because I thought if I went to sleep, maybe I wouldn’t wake up again. Sleep meant losing consciousness and awareness for hours and hours every night. What if that blankness just seeped into the next day? What if I stayed asleep and everyone else woke up? What if it stayed dark?
I’d go back through my day, just in case there was something that had happened to pre-empt my death, something I’d missed. We used to spend weekends at the beach, and my brother and I would go exploring in the coastal shrub. We’d crawl through tangles of prickly bushes, following tracks created by kangaroos and wombats. It occurred to me that all kinds of hidden danger could be lurking in those adventures. Was it possible to be bitten by a snake without realising it? How long would it take to die if you were? Could the venom lie dormant until you slept?
I knew, logically, that people didn’t just die in their sleep. Not unless they were very, very old. And even then the death wasn’t without reason – it was because their bodies stopped working. Sometimes people who were sick died in their sleep, but you had to be sick first. People didn’t just die.
My mum tried to combat my inability to sleep with a CD of calming music. She didn’t know about the fear which was the undying cause of my sleeplessness – I never told anyone – but she helped me fight it anyway. I listened to the CD every night, usually from start to finish. It was called The Mystical Call of the Loon, but I called it Call of the Looney Bird. It heavily featured the haunting noises of an aquatic bird called the loon.
The loon seemed like something that I’d leave in my childhood, but I have never been able to truly leave it behind me. In adulthood, I’ve discovered that the call of the loon is used regularly in horror movies. It’s a sound bite used to evoke swamps, ethereal mists and lurking danger.
Collage above by Hannah Gartside.