Several nights of seven-month-old Tyson’s teething and lack of sleep, and the way I’m feeling right now has parallels with my one-and-only foray into Dopeland many years ago. I was nineteen, cajoled into sharing joints with some hardcore pot-smokers, when suddenly the walls rushed in at me, my legs were overwhelmed by a marathon-runner’s fatigue, rendering me immobile, and every thought that entered my mind was besieged and dragged into a whirling frenzy of madness.
I am there again, but this time I’m doped up on sleeplessness and my mind is becoming increasingly erratic the longer I walk back and forth along this same short stretch of carpet. Sleep has her arms around me and she is warm and coercive, but I cannot lay with her – the option is not mine – because I have my arms around Tyson, who, despite being deliriously close to unconsciousness and way past due for his daytime nigh-nighs, remains stubbornly, hellishly awake.
Hours seem to pass as his eyes open and close and his legs kick out and he drifts off and then wakes again, and just as I’m reaching a fatigue and repetition-induced hysteria, wondering if I should just put Tyson down, set up a mobile above his cot and play some low, rhythmic baby music so that I can go downstairs and gouge my eyes out, he sighs and falls asleep. Just like that. When I place him down and watch his face press against the soft mattress, I feel only envy.
I’m going down the stairs slowly because I’m entirely focused on avoiding all creaking sounds, and this is why it’s such a shock when I lift my gaze to see the entire living room and kitchen covered in toys. Archie and Lewis have opened every box and emptied every crate, and I think I can even see a bag of rice spilled on the carpet, and something smells like cream cheese, or Burger Rings, and Archie says, ‘We had to find that,’ and points to Lewis, who is standing in the middle of the disaster zone holding a plain, undersized marble between finger and thumb.
I’m beyond reacting to this. No motivation, no desire, no sense of responsibility can drag me away from this exhaustion. I somehow manage to walk to the sliding door and stumble into the backyard; the fresh air, the slight chill, is an awesome relief.
As I sit down next to the guinea pig cage and take out Nugget – the fatter, friendlier one – for a pat, the earth shakes, and ripples run through everything I see, as if someone has thrown a stone into the middle of my vision. I reason that I must be hallucinating, but still, as our five chickens gather around me, one sane thought enters my head: maybe I should stop writing at night and go to bed as soon as the kids are asleep.
Yes, that would be sensible. But even as that very thought was forming itself another thought was forming to counter it and remind me that I’ve tried that several times before. Whenever I stop writing other positives tend to stop with it – the injection of humour, a keener focus on the everyday, the chance for a more positive reflection on the tougher times. Writing helps me to appreciate the people around me more and feel more gratitude for my place in the world, and how it holds me.
Last week a publisher who had been following my blog told me that he liked my stories but was more interested in the exotic – in faraway places and interesting people.
As Marley and Ekko lumber over and sit at my feet for a pat, I think about why I write. I am interested in people – relatives, friends and those I bump into at the park or the supermarket in downtown Reservoir. And while I do like certain places, it’s not the faraway ones that I feel the need to write about.
There’s a warm dog at my feet, the hot sun on my shoulders, the responsibility for the growing humans inside our home, the sounds of a lawnmower and the rattle of a tram in the distance, and I couldn’t sit for a moment like this, reflecting like this, anywhere else in the world. I will never write about the world outside this tiny backyard, this slightly larger suburb, or the boundaries of this State unless circumstances take me beyond them and, much to my relief, that doesn’t happen very often.
Tyson fought, squirmed and complained as I rocked him to sleep but it was only a matter of time before he found his centre in the bounce of my arms and right here I feel the same way – I’m safe to talk about the stresses and obsess over the tough times because I’m supported by the rock and rhythm of the suburb I know so well and eventually – every time – I release and relax and emerge with energy and focus renewed.
As I lie back and close my eyes I become aware of the crunch of gravel and the measured squeal of the trampoline springs. When I open my eyes again I see Lewis standing above me, holding a cupful of mud with my toothbrush sticking out of it.
‘You’re asleep on the ground.’
‘What? Really?’ I say, noticing that he’s holding Nugget and that their cage has a few more handfuls of grass in it. ‘Am I . . .’
‘Hi, Dad,’ Archie says, as he does a bum-knees-feet on the trampoline. ‘The chickens are pooing on the steps again.’
I sit up and shake the debris from the back of my arms and Lewis climbs up on my shoulders and starts slapping continuously at the top of my head, as if I’m a human drum, and the playfulness, the slight sting of it, brings me out of my sleepy dullness. There are no ripples anymore and the ground is still. I’m overwhelmed by a feeling that my backyard is good. My backyard is great.
‘Hey, Lewy,’ I say, ‘let’s make up some stories. Let’s make up some really, really cool stories together.’
‘Okay,’ he says, beginning as always with, ‘And then . . .’ It puts me right in the middle of the story and I’m hanging on his every word. Tyson will wake up soon and Archie and Lewis will fight, and then befriend each other, and then fight again, and the house will have to be cleaned, and I will battle through the lack of sleep, and a million dramas will unfold in front of me in a manner of minutes, but it’s okay. These are my people and the story I’m telling about them is as exotic as any – it reaches through past, future and present, and offers me a place that has everything I need and, as far as I can see, inside and outside, it is a story that has no end.