In Linda Rand’s latest Pandemic Diaries entry “To Look a Gift Bird in the Mouth,” she shares about phone calls using her landline, talks with mom, sleep, and birds.
In the first weeks of our shelter-in-place, my old friends who knew my landline reached out and I loved it. We’d spend hours talking about what was happening and what it could mean. Sometimes, one would apologize for “going on and on” about something but I would insist. It was the least I could do. If I could listen, if I could help during these times, I really wanted to. It felt like there was so little I could do, that whatever I could do, I wanted to do with all my heart.
My mother also realized she could get a hold of me and even call late, since there was no school in the morning anymore, and I would dutifully be an ear. In the early days, I felt she wasn’t taking it seriously and I would tell her about what I was learning about in Bergamo, Italy, and finally she said, “Linda, you’re scaring me,” and I said, “Good. I’m not trying to scare you out of your mind but into it. You need to take things seriously.”
Now when she’s home, she sometimes likes to read me all the numbers concerning every state in the country. I’ll be doing whatever, cleaning usually, and make a noise now and then. When she starts over, I’ll say, “Mom, nothing’s changed. I don’t think you need to read them all again,” and she’ll laugh. I know she’s doing it because she feels a sense of control being on top of it all. I can hear it in her tone of voice. Sometimes after that, she’ll start bringing up every miserable thing in my life and remind me of all the things I need a break from and this is when I’ll say, “Mom, I am just doing this because I love you and care about you and know you need someone to talk to, but now you’re adding stress to my life. You need to talk about something else,” and she’ll chuckle sheepishly. It’s nice we hardly fight anymore. After all these years, we’re getting sort of okay with establishing and respecting boundaries. It’s a small miracle, really. All that over-the-top emotional bloodshed when we were younger actually amounted to something.
Sometimes, she’ll be walking and that’s nicer. It’s more interesting. Something about strolling late at night, it gets the gears moving, and she’ll chit chat some gossip about her friends, who got the vaccine and how they think God is smiting us, or health things like various aches and pains in her arm or in her hip, or house matters like the roof. Sometimes, she’ll talk about killing the “bastard germ,” which makes me laugh. Once, as she was returning home, I heard a bird singing loudly on her end, at like 2:30 in the morning. Whoa, that brought back memories.
When I was 20, my dad passed away two months after being diagnosed with cancer. I felt anguish that I kept to myself, because no one I knew had lost a parent and I didn’t expect anyone would understand. I had a very full life at the time. I was in college and worked with Hyatt hotels, mostly at the front desk and PBX , which was like the hotel operator, in charge of emergency communications and also mundane things like being a secretary to all Heads of this or that department that worked there. I loved it because I could read, write, and also work on my schoolwork while on the phone. And I was really into going to clubs and dancing. I probably went three to four times a week and didn’t sleep much to fit that all in. When I did sleep, it was at weird hours and for weird amounts of time. There were three different shifts at the hotel, because it was a 24-hour business. I was flexible with my schedule, to fit all the things in. I liked variety as well. As I got busier and busier and picked up even more gigs, mostly creative projects that aligned with my interests, I started having some odd things happen with my sleep.
I love a good deep sleep. It’s the best thing in the world. It’s like being reborn.
I love a good deep sleep. It’s the best thing in the world. It’s like being reborn. But during the Hyatt/club days, I started being unable to wake up all the way. I’d open my eyes and it felt like something was on top of me. I wouldn’t be able to move. I could see everything in the room but not be able to turn the light on, for instance. Sometimes, if I tried really hard, I would see my hand as a sort of etheric energy reaching for the lamp, but it would go through it. I couldn’t exert will upon anything physical. I couldn’t speak either.
I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I remember once setting the alarm for a two-hour nap during the day because I thought it would be safer with the neighborhood sounds and people around. That was one of the worst experiences. I felt smashed down so thoroughly into the bed that I could barely breathe. Paralyzed, it seemed like I was surrounded by small energetic beings full of an unholy glee. I thought I was being plagued by demons or aliens or losing my mind.
I became more and more frightened to sleep alone. I would try to sleep at friends’ houses and was even so desperate I tried to get my mom to let me sleep with her. Sometimes, I would just stay awake all night, and that is when the bird song began. It would be 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and a bird would start up eerily in the magnolia tree outside my window. I felt like it was a personal seal of death or some sort of curse. I was so frazzled and was practically cowering in my room. After some nights of this, I made myself go out and get a hose and spray water into the tree. Now I feel bad that I did this because I realize it was a mockingbird and not some harbinger of further doom.
Maybe a year later, I was so happy to discover the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states. The former happens to you before you fall asleep and the latter upon waking. They can be symptoms of narcolepsy but can also arise when sleep patterns are too erratic. They are a form of sleep paralysis where you can still have dream visions while also seeing your surroundings.
The bird trill brought all those memories back, and when I told her it used to scare me, the mockingbird in the magnolia tree, she asked, “Why?” and I said, “I was weird back then, maybe I was afraid of possession,” and she said, “I love hearing birds, day or night, it doesn’t matter.” I think the simplicity of her approval dispelled any haunting residue. Maybe I’ll try and like the gifts that are offered to me without dwelling on the hypothetical curse.
“Hypnopomp” (detail), oil, acrylic, mouth atomizer on canvas