“Circadian Rhythms,” by Fran Hoepfner

At some point in college when the conversation turned, as it was wont to do, to how everyone was “dealing with their period,” I had a friend tell me I should––no, I needed—to buy one of those hot water bottles with a cashmere cover. Cashmere! The fuck? I was twenty years old. The hot water bottles with the cashmere cover cost one hundred dollars, and if one hundred dollars is a lot to me now, imagine how expensive it felt to me as a college student. “Wait until after Christmas,” my friend said, “and it’ll be sixty dollars on sale.” I never thought of myself as a hot water bottle person. To me, they have always seemed antiquated and weird, right out of old-timey young adult novels I never connected with in a meaningful way. But I used to have debilitating cramps, and I also have a bad back, and I get migraines (this is what we in the biz call a “triple threat”), so I bought the hot water bottle with a cashmere cover on sale after Christmas. I can’t remember but I do think I only paid sixty dollars. I used it a few times. Then I moved into an overheated apartment where it sat in a drawer for years.

For almost all of my twenties, I kept an extremely regular seven and a half hour sleep regimen. In the summers, when the light is generous, I could wake up at 6:00am with ease, and usually I would prefer to. Now that I am in grad school, with a slightly more relaxed lifestyle (lol), I let myself sleep until 7:30am. If I didn’t set an alarm, I would wake up at 7:29am. If I didn’t have coffee before eight in the morning, I would get such a vicious caffeine headache that the whole day would be ruined. I built a reputation as a person who could and would get home from something and go to sleep––the correct thing to do. Even in school, I’d get out of class around eight in the evening, and inevitably, one of my classmates would announce, “Fran has to go to bed.”

All of that has gone out of the window because of—well, you know why. This past week, I’m lucky to fall asleep by 1:00am. Most nights it’s closer to two. At first, I was still waking up like a shot at 7:29am, but then the wake-up times drifted by an hour… two hours… until the next thing I knew I was waking up at eleven in the morning. I haven’t lived like this college. I’m neither tired nor am I rested. If coffee is doing anything to my body, I can’t tell. I went a day without it and nothing changed. 

I walk a few miles a day. I do push-ups (unfilmed). I do something called FLAT BELLY AND TIGHT BOOTY—I have neither—CARDIO DANCE WORKOUT.  I cleaned my whole room. I vacuumed one (1) time. None of it wears me out.

Before all this—again, imagine me gesturing vaguely—I was sharing a bed with someone on a somewhat regular basis. Obviously that’s done now. “It’s not you, it’s the pandemic.” In the absence of companionship, in a drafty apartment, in my waking, tireless anxiety, I started filling up the hot water bottle every night around midnight. It gets warm and soft. I tuck it under one of my arms as I try and fail to read a book, and within thirty minutes, I fall asleep on top of it. It is not a pet. It is not a person. I can hold it as tightly as I want without worry. I can drool on it. With some frequency, I will get too warm in the middle of the night and push it away from me in a sleepy huff, and then when I wake up in the morning, I am holding it again. Maybe all of this is the recurring system of being a real stuffed animals kid, I don’t know. Also I am taking melatonin. That might be a part of it too.

Anyway, I started setting an alarm again. So far it’s an exercise in failure (so are the push-ups, to be clear) as I hit snooze one… three… six times. But it’s there. It goes off. I do wake up, marginally more rested than I was the day before, and remind myself I am not living in a dream. I walk to the kitchen and then I empty out the water bottle until the night to come.

Fran Hoepfner

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