When I was little, my dad taught me a trick to deal with insomnia.
We lived on a windswept acreage, with Nebraska cornfields unfurling from a thousand directions on all sides. I combed every inch of them, alone but for the companions I invented for myself in my head. By day, the amber, flecking wildness of everything around me rustled with motley invite. By night, it was quiet and lonesome. I would lie awake for hours.
My dad taught me a trick simple enough that has served me well whenever I’m in bed, unable to quite seal with the deal with sleep: methodically work your way up through your entire body, fine tuning its position for the most comfortable position.
There is something odd about seeing childhood pictures of the girl you marry. The pictures seem hypothetical—like an artist’s rendering of a scene he didn’t witness. The entire life she lived before you—the hobbies, the moving trucks, the scholarships, the first time she snuck out from her parents’ house, the first time she read her favorite novel. All those firsts seem so indelible to her. We tend to think of people as frozen in time until we meet them, but they are not. They did some living before you. We all come into this world as smooth stones and life immediately begins to notch us with corners, spindles and edges. By the time you meet your person, they’ve got a few. So do you.
My wife spent most of her childhood and teenage years as an athlete. Bone-knocking thin with a shock of curls usually tied back into a functional ponytail. She generally dressed in a searing array of neons. Big smiles full of straight teeth. Eyes that squinched tight when she laughed. Her face in old photos is familiar enough, but she’s missing the scar on her chin—that came later. As did plenty of other tough knocks.
To fall asleep, start with your feet. Stretch your toes, curl them till they pop, and ensure they’re relaxed. Adjust your legs below the knee—smooth the sheets under them to make sure they’re not resting on a vexing wrinkle.
Then go up to your thighs. If you sleep on your side, make sure the bones of your knees aren’t directly on top of each other. Keep working your way up through your hips, tweaking and nudging your body this way and that. Don’t rush it. This isn’t to be rushed. This is, after all, your sleep we’re talking about here. Don’t look at the clock. Don’t think about what time you’ve got to wake up. Focus on your body—its pieces, baubles, knobs and shoots. Its edges.
I think the reason people have a hard time describing marriage is that it’s impossible. Not to describe it. I mean marriage itself is impossible. By the time you meet your person, the two of you have been nicked, spun, carved, gashed and inflated in a million, million different ways. And now you’re supposed to join these two pieces together like drops of water.
I met Liz over a work email. I dug through her Facebook, looking for things to love, and found plenty of them. One photo of her holding a Dead Weather record in front a giant painting of the US Flag bewitched me. Long, tan, beautiful legs shooting out of tiny jean shorts. Eyes hiding behind old aviators and a rock and roll snarl.
Looking at it now, how could I not have fallen in love with her?
The first time you defeat insomnia with my dad’s trick, you’ll be tempted to try and remember the exact position you fell asleep in, and recreate it the next time from memory. Take my advice here: don’t bother. There are no shortcuts. What works one night won’t work the next. There will be no hurling your body into the perfect position. The sudden turn, the sweep of the sheets and flinging of legs and arms. It’s slow. It’ll take time.
It depends on a million tiny things in your body you’re scarcely aware of.
You’ve just got to keep at it.
Marriage is impossible but then, what’s the alternative for me? To live life without her? Better to not live at all.
So then, stuck between two impossibilities, you go for love. At first, you fling yourself. You don’t realize the enormity of the task you’ve taken on.
I met her parents on a trip to Ohio. They are very kind. Her father shook my hand and blessedly skipped the whole Stern Protector act, instead eyeing me with a wry smile.
“Do you have any idea what you’re getting into?” he asked.
Of course not. Who on earth does.
The part most people forget is the face. The day’s tension is left there, in juts and shudders. Your teeth are clenched. Your ear is pinched. Don’t skip a step.
You start slamming your lives together, and the pieces don’t fit. How can they not fit? The disagreements. The couple she loves and you don’t. The job you want and she doesn’t. Where do you want to go? I don’t care. Why are you being like this? What do you mean? Are you sure you’re OK?
Behind each question, a small disappointment: I thought we fit.
But that’s the secret. People don’t fit. Nobody does. Marriage is impossible.
I woke up on the day of my one-year anniversary before she did. She sleeps beautifully—like in old movies when Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn sleep in delicate murmurs, lips together, nostrils flaring just slightly with every breath. I’ve never understood it. She has an explosive, erupting amount of energy. She sleeps like a kitten.
We dove into love not knowing any better. We called it a roller coaster, and that’s what it always felt like. What it feels like. When the carts crest the threshold before that first drop, and your breath is caught somewhere outside of your chest for the briefest of moments. And then down, down, down—too fast, stomach and body hovering in outer space before the tracks curve up and you’re caught, reassembled and shooting forward.
It’s insanity, in a world where so few loves survive. It’s a swan dive out of a bomber. A motorcycle jump with two flat tires. It’s impossible.
I look at her asleep in the bed. My person. My favorite. My firecracker. My best friend.
My whole heart.
My throat aches with love.
It has only been a year. I cannot imagine life without her.
So, we do the impossible. We fit our lives together slowly, methodically, every day. Start with the feet. Find the knobs and pinches. Fit them where you can. Don’t mash them. Don’t fling yourself. Don’t assume. Don’t skip a step. Find the comfort in each other—the hollows you can fill. This is happiness. The best shot you’ve got.
Is it impossible? Perhaps, but so is grace, and God has enough grace to go around. God gives grace to the girl I married every day, and she gives it to me. It’s astonishing. It’s the air in my lungs.
We fit. We do. Against all odds, we fit. Little by little, over time, every day, we’re forming and re-forming. We’re finding how two become one. It’s slow business, but when you look back, you realize how far you’ve come.
What a miracle you’ve created.
How deliriously, beautifully happy life is.
You get comfortable. You fit. You beat the insomnia. It’s like falling asleep.
We ran up and down streets, hanging on each other, drunk. Shouting one line over and over that had us falling into quaking fits of laughter long after it’d stopped being funny. It was spitting rain and the streets were wet. People stared, but all we wanted to do was get back to the hotel room and watch Netflix, perfectly comfortable. Perfectly together. We had a plastic shopping bag with a bottle of wine and a box of Cheez-Its.
We have an impossible life together, you and I. But it’s our life. It’s ours. And it makes me happier than I ever knew I could be. We fit. Against all odds, we fit. We ease into each other. A little more every day.
The impossible home.