My partner, Ramon, sleepwalks. He’s wandered barefoot through the halls of my college apartment building, stood in the shower – half-undressed – to “get ready,” and eerily swayed in the darkness of our bedroom. After almost six years of troubleshooting, I’ve learned to expect a sleepwalking or sleep-talking episode from him when I hear a loud, funny chewing noise. Once I learned to anticipate this phenomenon, I kept my camera – whether it was my dSLR or my phone – ready by my side to show Ramon what he was up to.
While his condition makes for a good story to laugh about with each other and with our friends, it didn’t take long to realize his sleepwalking is just as frightening as it is entertaining. And Ramon never remembers wandering away, so essentially I’m the only one dealing with his sleepwalking episodes.
“Jovelle and my family have been telling me to keep a dream journal for years so that I can better keep track of my sleep patterns,” Ramon says. “The problem is that I never remember any of my dreams long enough to write them down and I never remember any of my sleepwalking episodes. Having other people tell me about my sleepwalking and show photos of me doing things that I can’t recall is the only glimpse I have into this other world.”
His parents have a memory of him sleepwalking as early as second grade and his sister often recounts a time she found him in his room with a wet blanket over his head, clearly from wandering outside in the rain.
Last year, we drove up to Vancouver, British Columbia early to beat border traffic and chose to rest in the car at a Safeway parking lot before exploring the city. During our nap, Ramon began to shift around and placed his hands on the steering wheel, while I clutched the car keys in my hand.
“I’d wake up and listen to stories of what I did during the night,” Ramon says.
Though his episodes are – for the most part – tame, he once ran frantically around my college apartment, knocked chairs down, and tried to escape to the elevator room.
“No matter how outlandish the stories were – they never felt like anything more than just stories to me,” he says.
Sleepwalkers may roam their homes, navigate staircases, and open cabinets and doors – all with their eyes open and listless. We’re often warned not to wake a sleepwalker, so when I discover my love is missing from my side, I’ll gently nudge him back toward the warmth of our bed – sometimes resentfully.
But what if I don’t catch him in time and he trips down the stairs? What if I’m out of town and he finds himself in the driver’s seat of our car again? During my past trips out of town, he’s called and told me about waking up on the living room or kitchen floor, and I imagined the worst possible scenarios. So I worry.
Ramon can laugh at these images of himself in such absurd situations but is more put-off by his own empty gaze and lack of control. So he worries.
Neither of us know if we should be handling his sleepwalking differently than we already are, but I do have this satisfaction: even in his sleep, Ramon always says “I love you” back.
He’s often caught in the space between dream world and waking life. This ongoing project that I started in 2014 creeps into that space, what surrounds it, and how we’re dealing with it together.