...it hit me then how difficult this could be for me. Journal Excerpt, June 14, 2006.
It was one thing to throw myself into my bed in anticipation of sweet sleep, it was another to be able to relax enough to allow it to happen. I was so accustomed to the albergue noise that silence seemed strange and automatically my ears wandered out into the busiest street in the village which is next to the house and attached themselves to the sound of cars and trucks going up the hill where I live. It was a different kind of counting sheep. The longer my ears and mind stayed outside with the noise, the more trouble I had falling asleep, just like in the albergues. At some point I realized how nuts that was and taking an extra pillow, I dampened the sound and the light in the room and eventually fell down, down, down into a heavy sleep. When I woke up some hours later, without moving a muscle of my body and feeling drug-like, my eyes tried to focus on some objects in the room: a bright orange laundry basket, a book on the bed next to me, a pile of clothes on the floor, the wooden beams of the ceiling. There were a few seconds when I actually didn't know where I was, and the only thought coming to me was that I was in some albergue, some where. When full consciousness finally came into focus and I was sure of where I was, it seemed a rather odd moment. In my haziness I had been so sure of where I was there and then—so sure. I got up slowly, got dressed again, went downstairs to the kitchen, scrounged around for something to eat, then went outside to visit my minuscule garden which had exploded over the four weeks I was gone and had clearly been left unattended. Back inside, I sat down with something to drink, and began happily planning my next slumber while I stared outside the window.
Sleep, sleep...such a beautiful thing sleep, especially on a mattress you are in love with. I'm considering marrying my mattress, in fact. It seems like a good deal to me. I imagine the ceremony like this:
Deb do you promise to lay on your mattress in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, til death do you part?
Certainly...except that last part. You're talking about the death of the mattress, and not me, right? If I go first, that's okay, but if the mattress goes first, then no dice, he'll have to be replaced.
Yes, well, thanks for making that clear in advance Deb. I'm sure Mr. Mattress will be, um, grateful. I'll have to change the wording a bit for his part so as to be fair.
Fair is good. Give it your best shot.
And, um, so do you, Mattress, promise to take Deb, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, with that conditional bit about til death do you part?
Well, I've gotta lot of life in me yet and, anyway, only I can make her sleep in the starfish pattern. It's kind of cute. So yeah, okay. Deb's good.
I once picked up and looked under the mattress in a hotel for the brand name and model because I hadn't slept so well, up until that time, in all my life. I've still got it on a piece of paper in a three ringed binder. Never, ever, underestimate the power of a good mattress.
The house was quiet and still. My backpack was still standing on its end, at the door where I had first put it down when I arrived back home. I didn't see any need to unpack it just yet, there was nothing inside it I needed now that I was home. That was an odd feeling too, considering how on the Camino I had needed every thing in it. It stood there dutifully, waiting for me to attend to it again. I walked by it on my way to the restroom, and back from being upstairs, and every time I saw it, I avoided making direct eye contact with it and certainly unpacking it. I wasn't ready to add that part of finality to my journey.
When the Pants arrived back home, we talked briefly, and not long afterward I went back to my second slumber or two. When I awoke and came down the stairs I was horrified. My pack and much of its stuff lay on the floor, the zippers opened and the pockets limply hanging, dirty clothes here and there, my little bags of organized stuff there and here. I couldn't understand it. It looked like a crime scene to me. When I found the Pants I asked him what had happened and he replied that he had searched for the digital camera and the extra memory chips. He wanted to upload all the photos from my trip onto the computer while I was sleeping. In fact, he was in the process of doing it as I walked into the room. It made me seize up with a combination of fear and anger. I'm not being dramatic when I say that I had felt violated. Not only was it uncomfortable to see my things strewn about the floor and my pack gone through, I simply wasn't ready to view all my photos yet. I wasn't ready to unpack my things. And I felt very upset that my pack had been touched at all. I stood there sorting out all my feelings and thoughts and then sifted through to the realization that he hadn't tried to do anything to upset me, he was trying to do something nice for me, in fact. He couldn't know how attached one gets to a backpack that one has carried for four weeks with one's sole source of supplies and belongings. On the other hand, he was an Eagle Scout, so he could have known, but on the other hand, from hearing his stories about scouting, it seems that his experiences had more to do with sitting around camp fires and doing boy stuff like throwing aerosol cans into the fire and watching them explode from what they hoped was a safe distance. I calmed down and sat down to watch the photos coming up on the monitor. They flashed by as the they uploaded into the photo program. I wasn't ready for that. I watched anyway, and explained the places and the faces, but internally I didn't want to see them yet.
That night I slept hard again, and when I woke up at about 4:45 am to the sound of blackbirds at the first light, I looked across at the head in the bed next to me and nearly freaked out. I had a "Who the hell is that?!?" moment, because I thought once again I was still on the Camino, and still in some albergue, and I couldn't figure out who it was in the bed next to me, and more importantly, why. When I came back to my mind, I felt odd again. It had seemed so real. I got up, went downstairs in the half light of the morning, had some of my beloved assam ceylon blend of black tea for the first time in four weeks, and then got this idea that I was going to go for a walk. The sun was up and out after all. I put on a sleeveless sports top, my Camino zip-off pants which I had made into shorts, picked up my walking poles, my hat and shoes, and went out the door. About four hours later I returned with a bright sunburn on my chest and shoulders, which was more than any of the light redness I got on the back of my legs the entire time I walked on the Camino. I was a little angry at myself when I saw it. I simply had forgotten to even think about sunscreen.
The Pants was a little surprised when I returned. I explained that I felt I had to go walking since I was used to walking every morning. I hadn't planned on being gone four hours, but on the Camino I never kept time or calculated it, and so I just kept going that morning, made a loop and came back home. It hadn't seemed like four hours.
As the day went on one of my friends came to welcome me home, and then afterward that evening it became apparent to me that although I had physically arrived in Regensburg and back to my little village and home, my mind was still truly out there somewhere, wandering around under the deep blue skies of the north of Spain. The next morning I woke up thinking I was in the albergue again, but after that it didn't happen again. Instead, a new development came zinging into my life. Leg cramps. I began having intense muscle cramps in my calves whenever I would sleep. I would wake up in the dark morning hours in incredible pain, unable to move any part of my foot to stretch them, sometimes breaking into a light sweat while fighting my way through them, often alternatingly whimpering or gasping as well, and sometimes crying. The lightening speed at which the cramps would strike was formidable. I could do nothing until it subsided, and at their height of intensity I had the feeling the muscle in my leg was going to snap in half like an overly stretched rubber band. I often had sore muscles into the next day due to them. These cramps went on for weeks on end, for more than a month, perhaps two or three in fact. I became adept at being able to somehow sense when they would start even while sleeping and would immediately pull my foot up hard in an attempt to prevent them. As a result, I would wake up. Sometimes I would win and they would not accelerate into a cramp attack, but many times even after pulling up my foot in my sleep I would lose and because the attacks were so fast I could not even get up and out of bed to walk my way through them. It was yet another reminder that although I was home, and my mind now realized where it was, my body perhaps still did not, or perhaps was not in agreement with my new, old routine. It also crossed my mind that the Camino gods were still playing with Deb and her desire to sleep and showing her how powerless she was in comparison. As a compromise, although I am not one to make deals with my body, I told my legs, the Camino gods, and the blackbirds that kept waking me up every morning, that I would take up jogging if the pain would please stop, since I couldn't see the practicality of walking 6 or more hours each day just to avoid leg cramps. Two half marathons, a full marathon, endless kilometers of jogging, and nearly four years later, I've kept my promise. The Camino gods seemed to be appeased, although, come to think of it, I shouldn't say that too loudly.