It is common practice amongst members of the Ho family to take a long siesta after a heavy weekend lunch. Though to be specific, this applies only to those of us in Taiwan. I have, over the years, lost the ability to truly fall asleep at any other time except the night time. For me, napping is really just lying down and closing my eyes, wondering if there is something else I should or could be doing. There always is.
My aunt, uncle, and cousins have no such problem. Among the lucky few equipped with nervous systems immune to stimulants, they can guzzle cups of coffee and tea after any meal and then slide effortlessly into the world’s most delicious and enviable slumber. If, like me, you find yourself tired after a heavy meal but, like me, you find it hard to fall asleep, watching your relatives snore in blissful disregard for the living can be maddening. It is usually around this time – the sixth floor afternoon hush – that I find myself haunting the cool dark hallway, gliding from door to door like an embittered Sandman incapable of infiltrating dreams. Instead I sullenly stalk the halls, a glowering shadow.
Behind door number one, I see my aunt’s pale white legs wrapped around a body pillow, chubby feet and round toes point towards my uncle’s straight-as-a-board figure. His expression is an enigma – I can’t decide if he is enjoying the nap or does it out of necessity, but in sleep he is all business, hands placed conservatively over his chest with a slight furrow over his brow. Important decisions being made. Next is Karen’s room, where when napping she refuses to stay on her side of the bed. Blankets are twisted around her limbs, hair wrapped around her neck, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so numb is she with sleep. And lastly, there is Larry.
Larry, the crown jewel, kept behind his invariably closed door, encased in the cool darkness required by a man for whom sleeping is sport. Other people sleep. Larry sleeps. Larry slips into a coma, just a few steps away from death. If sleeping were sprinting, Larry would be Usain Bolt. But even Bolt has his preferred racing conditions.
There is a particular pillow (not too soft. Preferably, and I find this odd, Karen’s pillow); a certain kind of blanket (nothing too scratchy. It irritates his legs), and, contrary to what protective qualities his thick and constantly swollen eyelids might provide, a negligible amount of light (shades completely drawn, just the glowing sliver beneath the door, thanks). There is also room temperature, which he prefers to keep around 25 degrees Celcius, rendering anyone who shares a room with him to long bouts of shivering. But meet all these conditions and he is the world’s most peaceful sleeper. Open that door, second on the right, and be greeted by pitch blackness and instant calm. Hear only the faint, rhythmic purring of a man who has not only entered REM but surpassed it and found a womblike dreamscape you and I will know only twice: before birth and at death…which is also to say, we will never know it.
When I first arrived in Taipei the AC unit in Larry’s room was broken, which meant he slept for three days on the floor of Karen’s bedroom atop a stack of two thin mattresses and a thick comforter. These conditions were wildly below Larry’s standards, and as a result he tossed and turned each night like a humpback whale who’d just learned that there was no more plankton left in the sea. Princess Larry, we called him during those nights, could not find a comfortable position upon the unforgiving ground, and rather than grin and bear it, he took us down with him, commencing a one-man cacophony of snores. He snored with such ferocity I woke many times during the night, thinking someone had driven a Harley right into the bedroom.
Except it was just Larry.
A few days later however, the unit was fixed and the Princess returned to his tower where all his conditions were met. Peace reigned and he slept once again like a lady.
This afternoon however, it must have been something he ate. We had lunched at an old family haunt, a buffet my grandfather used to like taking us to so he could eat like a ninety-year old bird and tell the rest of us to gorge ourselves. Larry was the first to start and last to stop, and while I’m no doctor, I’m certain that much…content in one’s gastrointestinal tract does not make for restful slumber.
I walked home in the rain to offset some of chocolate ice cream and by the time I came back, the house was, as expected, silent. They’d all gone to sleep and I thought I might try too, though it was fruitless as always. I began to read instead. An hour later, my aunt, uncle and Karen all rose from the dead and commenced their afternoon activities. Larry’s door stayed closed. The rain continued throughout the afternoon until the sun, despite never having made an official appearance, disappeared altogether and it was night. Finally, from Karen’s room where I sat reading a magazine, I heard Larry’s door open and his wide, hairy feet padding my way. The door swung open. I looked up from a model’s face to see Larry’s, which looked quite haggard. Puffy and splotchy. Despite his heavy slumbering, Larry never looks well-rested, but this afternoon his exhaustion was extreme, as though instead of sleeping he’d been, very quietly, wrestling with an ogre the whole time.
“You’re finally up,” I said.
“I slept badly,” he said, stomping petulantly to the window and looking out. Did the ogre escape?
“I’m very sorry,” I said, though I wasn’t.
“I had a nightmare,” Larry said, then considered, “Nightmares.”
“I had a nightmare about having a nightmare. And I couldn’t wake up.”
I sat up, tossing my magazine aside. What could Larry, who aside from the world-sleeping championship also holds the title for most boring man alive, possibly have a nightmare about? And a nightmare within a nightmare. I was fascinated.
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “In your nightmare, you were having a nightmare, and you couldn’t wake up.”
He nodded sullenly, his lips in a princess pout.
“In your dream you couldn’t wake up.”
He nodded again.
“A dream within a dream,” I mused, “That’s some “Inception”
stuff right there.”
Larry cracked a smile, “Yes, and the scariest thing was, once I woke up in my dream, I still couldn’t wake up. I was stuck. It was terrible.”
“What did you dream about? In the nightmare you had within the nightmare.”
Larry walked over to the window and looked out, then down, searching for something. He turned to me, his face grave, “Have you ever seen that movie, ‘Silent Hill?'”
I wanted to shake my head; even his nightmares were lame, but I stopped myself. I empathized. I’d seen the preview for “Silent Hill”
which is based on a terrifying videogame I’d played just once at my friend’s house and had decided not to put myself through that kind of stress. The movie wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. Looked too scary. But I never dream about scary movies. Yet for Larry it made sense. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was watching TV or playing video games or doing something else on his phone and laptop. His waking hours were spent in a different kind of coma; it followed that his dreams and nightmares take on the same digital tinge.
I flipped my computer open and began to write.
“You’ve given me some great content,” I said.
“Just like that?” Larry asked.
“Just like that.”
He nodded thoughtfully, though his eyes were getting heavy again.
“You’re really very good at that,” he said.
I smiled and began to type, knowing I was nowhere near as good at writing as Larry was at sleeping, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. With that, he opened the door and left for my aunt’s now vacant bed.