Sleeping Cells

Serenity covers me like a cardboard box. Put one over your head and you'll know what I'm getting at. Dusty, cool serenity. From here I can peek out at my knees, the clutter, someone fudging by. The clamor of the neighborhood is mercifully muffled. The adults all sound like children. The children have become gurgles of muddy water.

My serenity uncoils past the liquid tumult and touches a memory of last night. Among the froth of neurons is a vague recollection of my body swallowed by an old sagging mattress and a pile of blankets. I was pulling at my covers, waking at every loud noise or the slightest stirring of nerves. By around three I sank into sleep.

Sleep is not easily translated. To an onlooker I would appear quiet and unmoving. My contorted identity as a social being is reduced to that of an inert organism, an animal in a state of recuperation. Everything is in suspension, between frames, between twists of flesh. Without an active consciousness I seem to skip the passage of time and wake into a dream or into full-bodied, cantankerous reality.

Last night I woke into a body that seemed to have lost its left arm. As my mind gathered itself into awareness I realized that the numb sensation I felt protruding from my left shoulder was still an arm, but it had somehow lost its quota of blood. I immediately sat up and began massaging some life into the poor limb. In the darkness - it must have been about four in the morning - I felt disoriented, and vaguely terrified. Half my mind slept somewhere in the corners of my skull, unapproached by the weak flames of thought. Brain tissue. Blood. Webs of lymph glands, nerves, and vessels. The dense fog of molecules infusing my entire being and blending with the stuffy air of the apartment. All seemed to reel around in a trancelike dance. Somehow I revived my tingling arm and sank back into the bed, hungry for more stillness. I found myself curling up and clutching the pillow in an effort to squeeze myself asleep.

A pale limb quivered in the dim light of the dock. The little boat squeaked against its mooring and my arms dipped into cold water. Like a thin cloud passing over the moon, a luminous pain overcame my fleeting dream. Both arms had fallen asleep. Awareness of my body's hunger for circulation shook me fully awake, and I bolted up like a monstrous snake. As I flailed about, attempting to reclaim the two screaming limbs, I became keenly aware of my organism's frailty. How close we are to death, I thought. With just the slightest rearrangement of fluids we become asphyxiated. Shuffle our cells in the wrong pattern and we are no longer ordered like a living being. We surrender to the churning.

As life poured back into my arms and hands, my fear gave way to an odd exhaltation. What an incredible thing it is to be an aggregate of molecules, cells, and organs! How peculiar to be the consciousness which all these minute entities become! Somehow, as I floated between self-awareness and sheer existence, the bizarreness of my own biological being could fully expose itself. It is all so deeply weird.