At home, bedtime was a nightly battle, which I eventually remedied by giving the illusion of acquiescence. I suddenly developed a fear of the dark, and required a nightlight in my bedroom. Once I’d said my prayers and my bedroom door was closed, I’d lie on the floor reading books by the nightlight.
I was usually awake long after my parents had turned in for the evening. It was so frustrating, because there were a good number of things I would have liked to do with that time — baking, roller-skating, singing a selection from one of the musicals I’d written about my life — but I couldn’t, because everyone was sleeping, and I knew I had to keep up this illusion that I was too.
Long before I wanted to kiss boys or dress up as Dixie Carter, my categorical rejection of sleep was my first indication that there were specific rules the world followed that made no sense to me. I could rail against it, or I could just give the impression that I was like everybody else without too much trouble.
In my early twenties, I found myself in a relationship with a man who loved sleeping. It was his favorite part of the day. When we first got together, I found his sweet surrender to sleep mildly baffling, but adorable. He liked to nap. How cute.
But it is scientifically proven that the things you find appealing in the beginning will be the things you hate them for in the end, and five years down the road, his desire for sleep made me want to strangle him. It became his way of avoiding our rapidly deteriorating relationship. You can’t have a proper fight if one of you is unconscious. His willful narcolepsy felt like an elaborate plot to leave me without leaving me.
When Preppy and I started dating a few years later, I paid close attention to his sleep patterns. He liked to stay up late, and had a job which required him to get up early. Most nights he only slept for four or five hours, so I felt confident we were well-matched. But it turned out the early mornings were borne solely from necessity, and on days off he could easily sleep ‘til noon.
I panicked. I’d fallen in love with another Sleeper. I would make breakfast as an excuse to wake him up. I’d try morning sex. I’d play music too loud, or run the vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t just tell him that I resent people who sleep, because I’d known it was my freaky thing since I was five. So I tried to adapt, and go to bed like normal people. But it was Mrs. Martin’s classroom all over again, me lying there wondering why anyone would want this.
When the truth came out, as it is wont to do, Preppy was surprisingly sensible about it. He told me to stop thinking of it as time that I’m abandoned by the world, and instead think of it as the bonus round of my day: The extra lap I get to run when everyone else thinks the race is done.
Now, I schedule for it — we have our family time, and then husband and dog turn in for the night, leaving me with my time. I’ve come to cherish it.
Sometimes happiness doesn’t lie in changing behavior, but in changing perspective. And if you’re really lucky, you find someone who supports letting your freak flag fly any time of day.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.