My youngest sister Rachel had a phobia of sleeping alone. This probably stemmed from the fact that our family’s original home had two bedrooms and one bath ... with three girls. We were never alone. You couldn’t walk down the hallway or read a book or even go to the bathroom alone. So when Dad and Mom built our house, three-year-old Rachel had a hard time adjusting to a three story, 3,000 square foot house with her own bedroom. She didn’t like it. In fact, she hated it.
Rachel tried to make it work. She trudged into her little pink and white bedroom every night, crawled into her big lonely bed and gave it a shot. But somewhere around midnight, she caved and went to Rebecca’s room.
Rebecca, on the other hand, was a mature six year old who relished her own bedroom and didn’t appreciate these midnight visits. She refused to let Rachel in the bed. Many was the morning we would find Rachel in Rebecca’s bedroom, half standing and laying on the end of the bed ... sound asleep. Rachel preferred sleeping in standing mode like a cow in a field rather than sleep by herself.
Of course, looking back now, I find this heartbreaking. But at the time I was a thirteen year old who loathed her little sisters and found the entire scenario hilarious. Every morning I looked through Rebecca’s doorway to see Rachel, clad in polka dot underwear and a hand me down t-shirt slumping precariously, two feet on the floor, upper body beside Rebecca’s feet. I’m not saying we took pictures. I’m not saying we didn’t take pictures. All I’m saying is IF there were pictures ... even I have the common sense not to show them to the world.
I nicknamed Rachel “Sleeps Like a Cow.”
Dad and Mom decided this could not go on.
Dad: “We built this house so these girls could have their own bedrooms ... and by gosh ... they’re going to sleep in them!”
Mom: “I know. But we have to be gentle about how we approach this, she’s still just a little girl. But I’m worried about her standing all night long ... she could get a blood clot.”
The women in our family have a longstanding history of paranoia when it comes to blood clots. To this day I refuse to wear knee-highs.
Dad: “Well, I’ll get this straightened out tonight.
So night time came, along with a roaring storm. It was the worst possible timing. Dad tucked Rachel into her bed and picked up her favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Elephant. When times got rough, Dad always “talked” to us with our favorite toy. Similar to Richard Dreyfus’s’ puppets in What About Bob, only sweeter.
“Rachel,” Daddy bobbed Mr. Elephant’s head in Rachel’s direction as he spoke in a high pitched voice, “I’m Mr. Elephant and I love you.”
Rachel’s face was stuck in a permanent scowl. She crossed her arms suspiciously.
“Now ... you have this whole big bedroom that cost a lot of money.”
Dad almost never recovered from the trauma of house building expenses.
Rachel slumped farther under the blankets, eyeing the storming blackness outside her window. She obviously didn’t give a hill of beans about Dad’s expenses.
Dad bobbed Mr. Elephant faster, still speaking for the stuffed animal, “And I promise to stay here with you all night so you won’t be scared.”
Rachel’s wily three year old eyes squinted into slits as she logically analyzed the situation. She knew full well that Mr. Elephant was not talking. She new full well that once Daddy left and shut the door, she would be all alone in the stormy blackness and Mr. Elephant would be absolutely useless to her. She was not fooled.
“How about it Rachel? Will you be a big girl and sleep in your bed tonight?” Dad’s optimistic voice bobbled in fake Mr. Elephant accent. Bless the man’s heart. He was in completely over his head.
“NO!” Rachel shrieked and jerked upright, reaching out and snatching Mr. Elephant out of Dad’s hands and hurtling him across the room, “I don’t want to sleep with him! I want to sleep with something with SKIN ON IT!”
Dad’s eyes widened. It was a tense moment. On one hand, Dad was sympathetic. It was stormy and she was only three. On the other hand, as he gazed into his youngest daughter’s cherubic face, he was disconcerted at her use of the phrase, “something with skin on it” to describe a human being.
I’m fairly sure she snuck back in Rebecca’s room that night. I can’t really remember when Rachel reconciled herself to sleeping alone. But still, to this day, we all revel in yelling, “I want something with skin on it!” at her. And “Sleeps Like a Cow” doesn’t appreciate it at all.