“5 AM”

Jeremy says I’m a waste of weed because I can never pull anything into my lungs. Now he just smokes with his friends and I pretend like it doesn’t bother me.

Even though I don’t smoke, sometimes I catch myself inhaling big, holding tight, then releasing forcefully. I blow pretend smoke rings, my mouth pursed up, imaginary smoke clouds hugging me. It soothes me.

It’s almost 5 AM and I’m pretending like I haven’t stayed up all night waiting for Jeremy, reading the same depressing Carver story like fifty times because I can’t focus. I try laying upside down, my head where our feet usually are. I even dig out the body pillow my sister used when she was pregnant, and donated to me along with all her other castoffs, mostly clothes that are a few sizes too small. But nothing helps. All day I crave sleep, but as soon as I get into bed, my brain flips on and I’m too wired to do anything but stay up.

When I was little, I went through a phase where I had to be in bed by 9 PM, or else. It didn’t matter if I spent all night anxiously waiting for the sun, straining to hear my mom’s cooking noises in the kitchen and my sister’s alarm clock get ignored half a dozen times. 9 PM was all that mattered, and the peace I felt when I was safely under the covers by 9 PM is something I’ve never come close to again.

I told Jeremy about this once and he laughed and said I must’ve been a weird kid. He said he and his brothers used to make a pact to wake up at midnight and steal snacks from the kitchen. They even made contracts in their squiggly little kid handwriting that they signed. They always fell asleep though, no matter how many contracts they made.

The garage door cranks open and I consider flinging my book and glasses aside and arranging myself in mock sleep: chest steady, head sloping to the right, arm flung over my eyes to ward off any light. Instead, I prop myself up on my elbows and pretend to read.

Jeremy kicks off his shoes and falls into his side of the bed.

“Night,” he mumbles, and curls up.

He always could sleep on command.

The room smells skunky. Jeremy is convinced he doesn’t reek of weed when he comes back, but every time, it clings to his hair and clothes, seeps into his pores and inhabits his cells. I wash our pillowcases and sheets obsessively, but the smell seems to be permanent. Every time he sweats, I can practically taste it. He’s gone nose blind to it.

Jeremy’s chest rises and falls steadily, and I try to match my breathing to his so my body can learn what sleep really looks like. I peel off my socks and set my glasses and book on my nightstand.

Without my glasses, the world is softer, fuzzier, kinder. Like an indie movie or someone else’s home video. Jeremy looks endearing and lumpy in the soft glow of my reading light, like a butterfly with a severed wing that you catch and kill out of love. Or a beloved dog you put to sleep.

My phone blinks 4:58 AM and my heart beats even faster. After 5 AM is when I see the ghosts in the shadows of our bedroom, swimming playfully over his muddy sneakers and jumping in the pile of laundry, scattering clothes like leaves. They try my bra on like a hat, knock over my antidepressants, and brush against his snack wrappers. They lift my hair off my neck, float my body up, up, and together, we hide from the shadows and share a joint. As I exhale the smoke and guard Jeremy from above, I know what I have to do.

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About Sanjana Raghavan

Sanjana Raghavan is a student at George Mason University and lives in Fairfax, Virginia. When she isn't writing or camping out at the library, she enjoys chasing down random dogs on the street, and going to yoga to nap on the mat.