As a kid, I convinced myself that I had “almost-insomnia.” Every night I would melodramatically toss and turn, my body tired but my mind whirring on. Unlike an actual insomniac, I would always fall asleep, usually only one or two hours after I had first climbed into bed. But as a bored kid growing up with an astonishingly comfortable life, I loved to create my own problems.
So I told myself I was an insomniac. While my physician father recommended actual physiological solutions to my problem — drink less water at night, don’t read in bed, exercise more — I was too impatient. I started telling myself stories, fantastical imaginations of my future. It became a strange pattern; I would stay up late the first time I created a story, planning and executing an elaborate tale. The nights thereafter I would retell it to myself, the comfortable familiarity of my own fiction lulling myself to sleep.
I wouldn’t create stories of fantasy or magic; no princesses or dragons dotted my dreams. Instead — in perhaps the first indication of the self-indulgent pragmatist I would become — I was always the center of the story, and they were always closely realistic fictions of what I hoped my life to become.
When I was 10, obsessed with “Footloose” and with dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher, I pretended that as a teenager I would meet Kyra Sedgwick (yes, “The Closer”) in a park with her two children. You see, her husband Kevin Bacon would be filming a movie in the area, and Kyra would be so taken with me that she’d insist that I babysit their kids, even bringing me to glamorous Los Angeles for the summer.
When I was 15, prone to unrequited crushes and an incessant love of Harry Potter, one particular story took hold. I was in my twenties, living in London, single and successful and empowered, when I was called into a meeting with Daniel Radcliffe, and asked to manage his charity. The specifics of the charity were unclear, but our love affair was fully fleshed out, the details developed and redrawn as I fell asleep each night. I found security in these details, in taking these admittedly impossible ventures and grounding them in the day-to-day. Daniel and I would live in the city but spend a month each summer at my parent’s Lake Michigan cottage. I would become beloved by the Brits for my sweet as pie American goodness, but would personally struggle with a life in the public eye.
I knew these creations could never be real, but developing these worlds slowed my mind down enough to let me sleep. In real life, I wasn’t flashy or popular. While I was a happy person, my day-to-day life was free of much excitement. In my freshman yearbook, someone wrote that I “seemed nice and smart.” When I ran for student council, a friend overheard a boy asking, “Who’s Natalie Gadbois?” Another girl answered, “You know, that nice girl who looks like Matilda.” My best friend’s mom told me I would “blossom” in college, and I internalized that concept, believing that when my time came, it would be spectacular. I was OK with being known as just that nice, smart girl, because I looked ahead to my own exciting future. It thrilled me what wild machinations my future could hold. I just had to wait, and to dream. Hence, the stories.
They continued as I grew older, even as I entered college, and I did seem to blossom, my life really becoming exciting and adventurous. But the futures I created always held more — places to go and people to fall in love with and jobs to have. The stories became more realistic, or at least more grounded in my personal reality: rekindling a romance in some warm, far-away city with a friend I had long had feelings for; moving to a big city, meeting exciting men at book parties and museums; quitting a corporate job and developing a television show with a best friend. As recently as six months ago, there was still a joy in charting the infinite paths my twenties could take.
Now, I find it harder and harder to fall asleep, and these stories almost become menacing. I’m lucky that as a graduating senior I know where I’m working and living after college ends. I know that I am lucky, and I’m excited. But I’m also terrified. All these years of imagining, of creating an adult future, of dreaming of blossoming. All the possible imaginations of my future that I’ve cultivated for years are funneling into one actionable reality. My future is being anchored in ways I never envisioned. I’m going West; I always thought I would go East. I’m working the corporate job Natalie Gadbois-Radcliffe would have scoffed at. The close friends that accompanied my exploits are all moving in the opposite direction from me. In college, I blossomed. Sometimes I’m afraid in adult life I’ll wilt — or, at least, that I won’t live up to my dreams.