Now that I live in Southern California, I find myself particularly attuned to seismic activity. I've felt a very weak earthquake not terribly close by, wondered if it was real, and then confirmed with USGS reports.
I've developed a sixth sense for tremblors the same way I used to be hyper-vigilant about mice in the kitchen back in New York City.
In the early days, I wouldn't always feel the little quakes. Maybe I was in a basement. Maybe I was driving. Maybe I was walking home a bit intoxicated.
But now, I'm so sensitive to them, that I'm waking up from tremors that don't exist.
This isn't the first time I've felt phantom shaking. My Manhattan used to vibrate so much, I speculated that the ghost of the as-yet-built Second Avenue Subway was rumbling beneath. Even in this apartment, the shaking got so bad that I emailed my landlady, who postulated that it might've been from someone playing the stereo too loudly, or partaking in some afternoon delight.
It was not.
But those incidents were all in waking hours. Now I'm sleeping and waking up – thankfully with much fewer night terrors thanks to some meds – convinced that I've felt an earthquake. But when I check, my findings are uncorroborated by seismologists. No field reports. No meter readings. No damage.
So I am left to think only one thing: the tremors are coming from inside the bed.
It wouldn't be the first time I'd had seizures or convulsions. I passed out so many times as a kid – in church, at school, after falling down or looking at a cut on my arm – that my parents worried I was epileptic. I'd slump over and start convulsing, my eyes rolling to the back of my head. But when two different electroencephalograms determined that my brain was not short-circuiting per se, and that I was merely having a vasovagal response to stressful circumstances, my parents had to accept that that was just how I was. I was a fainter. And an eye-roller.
I haven't fainted or convulsed in a long time, though. I passed out after a shot of novocaine when I had a wisdom tooth pulled sometime in the late 90s. About five years ago, I almost passed out during gum graft surgery, something I wish I had not been awake for. But in my adult years, I haven't been one to get the vapors when times get tough. I usually just spring into action, choosing fight over flight.
But maybe I've just traded one parasomnia for another. Now that I'm not jumping out of bed to chase hallucinations out of my apartment, I have been clenching my teeth again – something I thought I'd cured myself of with a bite guard ten years ago. Maybe now that I'm not opening my eyes and seeing things in the room, my body is still tightening up in defense of whatever is out there to get me, trembling in fear.
But while my body wakes me up, my mind doesn't accept responsibility for it, and blames it on an earthquake.
It's hard not to think that something is shaking the bed, just like it's hard to believe that something isn't holding you down when you have sleep paralysis. Is someone – or something – trying to wake me up? For what? And why can I fall back to sleep so easily?
Who, or what, is with me every night, when I think I'm alone?
Unfortunately, sleeping has become more exhausting to me than being awake. In the morning, it feels like I've hiked a mountain, or lifted a boulder. There is no rest. There is no stillness, ever. Something is always moving.
And my heart beats out of my chest.
In Search of the Epicenter
One of Many Firsts: Earthquake
Photo Essay: A Seismic Climb to Potato Mountain
These Creatures of the Night
These Terrors of the Night