August 15, 2018
New York City
My dad used to sleepwalk, and both of my brothers used to sleepwalk, too, so it should not be surprising to me that in times of stress, I’ll rise from my bed in the middle of the night and stroll around my apartment, usually into my roommate’s room, where she is sound asleep, while I am also soundly asleep and looking for the bathroom, which, in our home, is—naturally—not located in her bedroom. (It is very surprising for both of us.)
If you encounter a sleepwalker, you are always supposed to wake them up, especially if they think your bedroom is a bathroom. The first time it happened my roommate was confused and woke me up concernedly. The second time she was terrified. The third time she screamed, “Why do you do this?” and was very, very angry.
I don’t know why I do this. There are a handful of behaviors that can increase your risk of sleepwalking, but being a sleepwalker is like being diabetic or an asshole in that it is an innate part of your being. After she yells at me, I sit awake, terrified that something is truly wrong with me. Why do I do this? What is wrong with me?
The strangest part about sleepwalking is the cognitive dissonance that occurs the minute after you are awoken by your screaming roommate in the middle of the night. I am always convinced that I belong there, in the non-bathroom, at three or so in the morning. I never remember what I say, but according to my roommate, it’s usually something like, “I was looking for something,” or “I’m here for some reason,” and then between 10 and 4,000 apologies as I shuffle out. That morning, she asks me if I am aware of where I am when I wake, and I never am. I just know to say sorry and leave, even though it’s hard to apologize for something you have no control over, right?
This is a question I ask myself, along with, Why do I do this? What am I looking for? 4,000 more times a minute.
I have a facial the next morning with a woman I’ve never met before. When I arrive she is burning sage to cleanse the space, which sits just below Waverly Place in a kind of open basement. She has chestnut curls and wore a necklace of skulls and an open-back tee that fit her like a loincloth. She may be a Free People model, but I am too emotionally downtrodden to deliver compliments. (Sadie, if you are reading this: You are very beautiful and I love you.)
“What is your intention for today?” she asks me, in the language of wellness.
“I guess I just feel very stressed,” I say. “I want to calm down. Does that make sense?”
Sadie seems disappointed with this answer, as if it was too pedestrian to be possibly considered a proper intention. “You want to recenter yourself, bring all of your energy back to you,” she either asks or tells me. I nod.
A facial is a spa menu item in which a trained professional applies various skincare products to your face for about an hour while himalayan-rain.mp4 plays on a loop in the background. They are an incredible racket. But I was invited here by a publicist (I work for a beauty magazine) to experience the hands of Sadie, who is a facialist and a yogi and a student of Ayurveda and something called an embodiment expert. Her particular expertise is an aesthetic treatment called microcurrent, which involves pulsing electric waves into the skin to make you more beautiful, somehow. In Sadie’s own words, we are releasing trauma from our facial tissues. Her spa charges $300 for one session.
As her hands glide over my skin like swans, Sadie implores me to clarify my intention. “What is at the root of your stress?” she asks. “What are you afraid of?” her swan-hands ask.
I cannot help but say aloud: “I guess I just feel unworthy of love?” Which was very unexpected and yet was the only thing I could say as this stranger gently palms my jawline and an ensemble of rose quartz watches from a nearby dish. “I feel like I am disappointing everybody in my life?” I say to the quartz.
She sigh-nods. “Do you know what a primordial child is?”
Sadie tells me that when children are born, they believe they are at the centers of their own universes—everything revolves around them. As they mature, this belief system erodes and makes favor for, I don’t know, Catholicism, but it tends to leave behind some kind of indelible feeling-kernel, however small, that everything still depends on them. Everyone’s anger, joy, resentment, guilt is somehow connected to, and thereby causal of, the actions of the primordial baby, who is also me.
“And it’s a beautiful thing to be connected with the universe,” Sadie says. Now she is running her electrical currents through my face. They feel prickly but not unpleasant. “There’s a perversion, too, because we tend to think everything depends on us when it doesn’t. You have to be objective, but not dissociative.”
I ask her what this means. “I mean, like, I’m Sadie,” she says. “But I’m also not. Do you know what I mean?”
Hmm . . .
I have thought about it, and no, I don’t, not quite.
But: “Yes, I do,” I tell her, as 100 watts of electricity travels through my left brow bone. At this point, only half of my face has been treated, and she hands me a mirror to inspect the difference. My right brow looks the same as it always has, but the left one appears straighter, slightly more surprised or aghast or delighted. It’s recognizably me but slightly different in a way that I cannot articulate, other than by saying it is a little creepy.
She applies a mask to my face in a manner I can only describe as balletic. She massages my wrists very softly and then, with consent, reaches into my mouth to release the hinges of my jaw from TMJ. Then I just kind of lay there for five minutes, until I sit up and find Sadie cleaning the space instead of touching my wrists or jaw. “Is it over?” I ask, and she nods because it is.
At work, I spend eight hours rewriting and deleting the same 225 words about purple shampoo, while my jaw hangs listlessly from the rest of my skull. Purple shampoo is an incredible invention and also a prison I live in: I went white-blonde a couple of months ago, and my hair yellows in the sun unless I rigorously coax it with this inky, violet stuff, which makes it white again. I write that purple shampoo is horrible and I love it, that my covenant with purple shampoo is like being married to my therapist, but what does that mean? It feels like it means something. I delete it and write about how it turns my cuticles blue.
By nighttime I have succeeded in writing 225 words, so I treat myself to seeing Eighth Grade for the first time, and I have popcorn and a Coke for dinner. Have you seen it? If you haven’t, this is the end of the story, and have a blessed day. If you have, do you remember when she’s talking into her webcam about feeling like you’re always in line for a rollercoaster—all queasy, nerves erupting, electricity coursing through your skin—but never experiencing the rollercoaster itself, or the thrilled satisfaction after? I cry loud Coke tears. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t know when the rollercoaster will come. It frustrates me that I can’t figure it out, because I am trying desperately. Is that what I am looking for, in my roommate’s bedroom, at three or so in the morning? I don’t know, but I sleep soundly that night, and I don’t even leave my bed.