These beds are not even six inches apart. We are sleeping side-by-side, each on our own twin bed. The sheets are soft and white. Three beds in this all-female studio room: a mini-apartment with a kitchenette and kitchen table and its own bathroom. Our new roommate is a tall and slightly over-sized Londoner. She’s funny and pretty and I like her instantly. Her first night in Athens, it’s only a little chilly outside, it being January and a mild winter.
I’ve had a great time figuring out how to talk to my Argentinian roommate, but the introduction of another English speaker complicates things; for instance, the Londoner and I can speak without the translate-delay, and she doesn’t seem interested in sitting and chatting for hours about life and family and friends through technology. When I try to include the Argentinian Woman in our conversations, the Londoner seems impatient by the delay in translation.
She goes out for drinks, and when she comes back, I’m already in bed. We talk for a bit without the hassle of translating for my Argentinian friend, who is already sleeping (or pretending she is).
“I work in marketing,” she tells me.
“I’m trying to get into freelance work,” I say. And then ask questions about what she does all day.
“It’s a good job, but it isn’t all that great,” she says.
And then it’s time for sleep.
Almost immediately, I can feel the floor shaking with her earth-shattering snores. Oh shit, is my first thought. We are so close we could hold hands…or I could stuff a pillow over her face. No, don’t think that way, she can’t help it. I spend the first hour just trying to sleep. Then I go through the stages of grief.
1. 11 pm: Denial. If I just ignore it, it will go away. She isn’t snoring, it’s all in my head. It’s not even that loud. I am in a forest, napping on a bed of moss next to a gently flowing river….Huhk. Damn. Nope. But why is she snoring? Is it because she ate or drank too much? Does she always snore? Am I meant to suffer? Is the goddess doing this to me intentionally?
I’ve read that there are many reasons that people snore: the most well known is sleep apnea, where a person literally stops breathing in sleep. But there are other reasons too: congestion, smoking, weight gain, alcohol, etc. From what I can tell, she doesn’t smoke, but she might be overweight, and she did drink this evening. I just keep hoping that if she turns onto her side then the snoring will stop—because that’s what some sources suggest as “treatment”—but it never stops, even when she turns.
2. Midnight: Anger. Dammit, what the hell, I’m never going to get to sleep. This sucks. Why am I such a light sleeper? Ugh. I’m going to be lying here forever trying to sleep, and I can’t even turn the light on or I’ll wake my other roommate. I am angry with myself for even taking this trip and believing that I am capable of surviving in hostels. I have always loved my own space, and I need it.
Back in the states, I have a hard time sleeping with my boyfriend; I mostly struggle because I know he’s a light sleeper, so if I don’t fall asleep right away, I feel guilty if I toss and turn and keep him awake. Sometimes I leave our bed to sleep on the couch, where I have my own space and can move about as much as I want, and he won’t yell at me. I can also cuddle with the couch, which somehow feels more consoling than cuddling with him.
But in this room in Athens, I’m trapped; there is no place else for me to go. I’ve got to deal with what I’ve got. I knew I should have brought gear and just gone camping.
3. 1 A.M.: Depression. I can’t believe I’ll never get to sleep. I’m going to be so miserable tomorrow, and I’m going to waste my day napping. I wish she’d just be quiet. Maybe I’ll try sleeping in the hallway. I bet I could drag my blankets out there and sleep on the stairwell …
Whenever I left our bed, my boyfriend got mad at me. I usually tried to go back early in the morning, before he woke up, to avoid his frustration. “Why don’t you want to sleep with me?” he’d ask, hurt. “You don’t like me,” he’d whine. I’d feel ashamed and not know how to respond. I mean, I thought I liked him, and of course I wanted to sleep beside him. I was sad that he was more concerned about us sleeping together than he seemed to be about a lack of emotional connection.
4. 2 A.M.: Bargaining. Maybe if I just wake her up, she can stop snoring. No, I can’t do that. Now I’m in the hallway, testing my theory, but it’s loud out here. Every voice and footstep and door slam echoes. And the guy at the front desk downstairs is playing loud pop music. I’ll never sleep out here.
I call my mom because it’s around mid-morning back in Massachusetts. “I can’t sleep! I don’t know how I’ll ever survive hostel life.” I’m so tired and frustrated that I’m nearly crying. “Look up Michael Sealy and listen to him on your headphones,” she tells me. “If nothing else, his voice will put you to sleep.”
The boyfriend tried to make me feel loved; sometimes he would spoon behind me and I’d try to sleep. But I needed space. I sometimes felt loved, but that wasn’t what I needed for sleep. Sleep is an absence of emotion; and holding on in an attempt to keep me there didn’t feel like love.
5. 3 A.M.: Acceptance. I’m back in bed. This is my bed, and this is where I will sleep tonight. The snorer is still loud as hell, but I’m going to embrace the fact of snorers and snoring.
My boyfriend couldn’t accept my need to sleep on the couch, but I learned to make my peace with him about it. I continued to leave our shared bed, and eventually stopped trying to hide it from him. I accepted his gripes and moved on with my life.
I find the meditation audio that Mom suggested, plug my complimentary British Airways ear buds into my ears, and I struggle to ignore the low rumble in the room. I focus on the man’s voice, which is slow and melodic, and there’s ocean waves lapping in the distance.