It has always been the case that the less I am looking forward to the day, the better I sleep, which means I am never more comfortable than when I am tucked beneath the covers, lights off and dreading something. It is the pressure of postponing the inevitable that forces me under. Those nights are full of dreams that may be good or bad but are nearly always potent, and surfacing from those depths is like emerging from hibernation, having been so far under that it takes long seconds to recall who and why and what I am. But even then the impulse to worry remains: what I remember of those mornings is the absolute certainty that, regardless what else may also be true, something is very wrong. Stripped of everything else, this is what I remain, it seems. Finding that memory—the thing I dread, the emptiness or fullness of the day ahead—is a relief: at least I know I am carrying something.
This, by contrast, to the nights codifying days whose successes line up neatly and gleaming, perfect warm trophies not yet fallen prey to the indiscriminate eraser of a poor memory. Their shine reflects on everything else, so that my walls and bed and skin are all buffed by the glow of the infallible; and for tomorrow, there is not just a vague hopefulness but a concrete one, specific tasks and people and accomplishments scheduled back to back to back, each of which I know beyond doubt will guarantee me the happiness I so richly deserve. Those nights I am too light to sleep: I want the morning too badly and my mind’s fingers are so pleased by running over the grooves of the day, that, buoyant, I rise up into insomnia’s embrace. Any wisp of consciousness is seized by a relentless joy that forces me to acknowledge that any amount of time not devoted to worshipping at my own altar is wasted. Then it is the morning and only as the unfurling light makes me dread how my tiredness will detract from the perfection do I feel the necessary weight to sleep.
When I wake, the morning quickly becomes so cluttered with previous feelings that it is a struggle to find myself. Every object has its own agenda: tables, chairs, mugs, air, light all carry their own traumas. By the time I arrive at my front door, I have undertaken a thousand struggles to scrape away these unfeasible encrustations and failed every time. Even in my best moments I am no match for the least stubborn memory, and my best moments don’t come until halfway through my first coffee, sitting at a small cafe table alone on a terrace high up over the ocean, looking over the railing as the Mediterranean glows cerulean in anticipation of the sun, a breeze ruffling my hair, and below me, the hard glossy particulate gleam of lemon trees on a hill tended by some clever Italian farmer who, like me, came from a beautiful place, but unlike me knew to stay, letting drop the silly ambition that was handed to me as a legacy or that I took up because of something I wanted, I am never sure which. And that moment has only come once; or never at all, I am realizing, because even that moment was actually a different moment later in the day in which I had a glass of wine in my hand and the world around me was at its best but I must not have been because I was content to merely enjoy it and not to inscribe myself on it; or, to use it to inscribe me onto myself so that in returning to my normal bed, my smaller windows and my impossible cat all wrapped in translucent layers that break and stain me every time I reach inside, my outline would be darker and deeper and more resistant, so that what clung to me would only build up my shape, season it and monumentalize it, until I could look at myself damply in the mirror after every shower and say yes, that is the person I have chosen to be.
Matthew Wollin is a filmmaker, writer, and law student. His critically-acclaimed debut feature The Skin of the Teeth earned him the title “a talent to watch” from The Hollywood Reporter, and was released in 2019 after playing at Newfest and Outfest Fusion. His prose and poetry has been featured in Juked, The Awl, and Word Riot, among other publications. In addition to his creative work, he also conducts legal work on mass incarceration and criminal defense.