I was a night owl as a child and an insomniac as an adult. I stayed awake replaying the events of the day—especially everything I did wrong. Therapy and getting an insane amount of exercise cured me in my twenties. After a miserable pregnancy (with equally miserable sleep), I woke up for breastfeeding several times a night. Once Baby D dropped nighttime nursing, I woke up because I’d gotten used to waking up. The slightest noises woke me up because Something Might Be Wrong with Baby D.
Then I woke up because something WAS wrong with Baby D, either an illness or a scream of “Want dinner!” at midnight.
My husband Andy never woke up unless I punched him in the arm, which, as I slept less and he snored more, made me want to punch him even harder.
In a perfect world, we’d have had a house with an extra bedroom where I could sleep. Our world is not perfect and housing in Los Angeles is expensive. I could sleep with the snoring husband in the super expensive comfy bed or the snoring dogs on the not-so comfy couch.
I mostly slept in the bed, using earplugs and Benadryl. My sleep improved. It might have improved more if Andy ever heard Baby D crying before I did, but I always woke up first–even with earplugs. Whatever super-critical psychological quirk made me notice dirt, crooked pictures, or anything out of place also woke me up if there was any unusual noise at night.
I swapped Benadryl for all kinds of different sleep meds, some of which I learned were also anti-psychotics, (possibly why Andy is still alive). Other medications made me appear drunk (Andy is a huge fan of Ambien for just that reason).
Sleep drugs helped, except on the nights when a cat hairballed, Woofie puked up purloined cabbage, or some idiots decided to use our lawn as a toilet.
One night, though, I woke up to…nothing. Baby D was asleep. The pets and husband were snoring softly. Yet something had gotten through earplugs, Ambien, and NyQuil: a faint whiff of smoke. I prowled the house, opening windows and trying to see if someone was smoking outside on a late walk. The street, sidewalk, and backyard were empty. Yet the smell of smoke remained.
Because I will always err on the side of caution (or maybe because I was pissed he was asleep while I was awake AGAIN), I finally shook Andy.
“Thanks for not punching me,” he muttered groggily. “What’s up?”
“I smell smoke, but the house isn’t on fire and there’s no one around smoking—”
“Oh, shit!” Andy was out of bed and out the backdoor before I finished talking. He dragged the garden hose to the dog run on the far side of our detached garage. I trailed after him, utterly confused – until I saw that our trashcan was spewing smoke.
Andy flipped back the lid and turned on the hose. In seconds, the small fire was out. Aside from the melted rubbish container, there was no damage.
After heaping praise on my quick-thinking firefighter, I asked, “How on earth did you immediately know what was on fire?”
“Well, um, you know, if it wasn’t the house or garage, then that was a logical place, and um…also I put the coals from smoking that pork butt in the trash tonight,” Andy finally admitted. “They must not have been completely extinguished.”
“Ohhhh. All is explained,” I answered. “Except—why am I up instead of the dogs?! I took Ambien AND NyQuil. They’re supposed to have a great sense of smell and they haven’t even left their dog beds! Slackers!”
“You know that Fey goes off-duty at night.”
“But we could have burned up!”
“No, honey. We will never burn up. No one will ever break in undetected. When Baby D is a teenager, he will never be able to sneak out at night. But not because of the dogs. Because you will always wake up.”
“Is that why everyone else in this house sleeps so soundly at night? Because I’m on guard?!”
Andy patted my shoulder. “That’s why I married you.”
It was a near thing, but I did not punch him in the arm.