We had just fallen asleep – or so it felt – when my heart seized, sending a paralyzing grip down my throat and deep into the chest. “Room 105! Come out with your hands up! This is the Seattle Police!”
Well, dang, I thought. Just my luck.
If I could change one thing about myself – never mind the love your body mantras – I would become a thick-as-a-brick sleeper, one of those chain-snoring, fall-asleep-with-your-head up folks who is always the first to conk out, whether sandwiched like sardines on a red-eye flight or under the black sky all by their lonesome without the wide-eyed time to wonder whether that wind isn’t really the whistle of some drifter.
Thin walls are my proverbial thorn, thwarters of happiness, well-being, and all shots at next-day sociability.
I felt my stomach fill with dread that night as I changed into my harem pants and crawled into the lofted nook. It was the last night of a 4-day birthday celebration we were throwing for Dad in honor of his 60th. Rush and I had made the trek out to Seattle – my temporary home and imaginary front runner of the if-I-could-live-anywhere-within-reason game – and met up with my brother and Dad for a weekend of wining and dining and cupcake buying. (There was also something called a cupcake milkshake involved that I’m happy to go into detail about, if asked.)
I was in elementary school when my parents divorced but Charlie and I were some of the lucky ones. Our parents wanted to see us whenever they could. We lived with Mom but saw Dad almost every other weekend, flying between states to do so. It was Dad who instituted father-daughter / father-son weekends where we each got to choose a trip to anywhere in the 48 continental United States or Canada, just the two of us. Charlie chose places like Montreal whereas I favored places like, say, Kansas City. I was a curious child.
You could say the 60th birthday trip to Seattle was our grown-up version of those trips, except in reverse. Mom had chosen the Ozarks a few years earlier (you see where I get it, don’t you?) and now Dad had set his eyes on the San Juan Islands. We rented a modern, open-air house on the deserted Guemes Island with little attraction but a General Store and a mile hike to the highest lookout point. I was willing myself back on that island as the officers’ fists met the door in the middle of the night.
I had seen the occupants of Room 105 earlier in the day, a barefooted woman with raven hair and a graying man with dopey cheeks. They were high as a kite – and legally so in the state of Washington – and had been chattering away in low hums and the occasional whine ever since Rush and I returned to our neighboring room a little before midnight. Rush tried to stay positive, “Isn’t is nice they’re connecting with one another?” but I just prayed, prayed for sleep, prayed for willpower to resist another Benadryl, prayed away the bad spirits of sketchy hotel rooms. I would have given anything to hear Dad’s rhythmic snore.
I didn’t realize when we booked the island house that the rooms didn’t have doors. I hoped a few glasses of wine would ease my body into rest but I knew I’d wake up in the middle of the night to his rumbling slumber and have to wait it out till the birds started chirping. This was one of the only things I dreaded about our father-daughter trips growing up – a shared hotel room and not enough late night television in the world for background noise. If it was really bad, I could always end up in the bathtub with a limp pillow and one of those scratchy tan blankets wrapped around me.
It turns out our neighbor in room 105 had been carrying around a CO2 gun in his back pocket, alarming the management. (I had Rush google CO2 gun, so you can too.) In his stupor, he offered to leave but the policemen said no, he had to sober up here. In his room. The one with the thin walls.
We’ve always been a family of thin walls. Maybe it was due to the divorce that we got to know each other as people and not just as children or parents. Maybe it explains our loyalty to one another. Our fierce independence and dull separation anxiety.
Because I know there’s going to come a day when I would give anything to hear that snore one more time, the one that doesn’t frighten me or piss me off so much as it reassures me that there’s someone out there other than me. I know there’s something to be said for boundaries and space between and all those things that make for functional families. But that’s never been our suit.
Just my luck.