I'd fight tooth and nail to get a sound comfort sleep again

MOM PICKED me up from school early that day. The bus loop in front of the administration building and the school sign was quite empty except for her Corolla. I slid into the passenger seat, more nervous about missing geometry than about the oral surgery 20 minutes away.

"Here." She passed me a bottle of water and a tiny envelope with a pill or two inside.

I'd never taken a sedative before, unless you count the warm milk with poppy seeds that Mom used to make for us just before bed.

I swished some water in my mouth and swallowed the medicine as she started the car and turned the corner. We stopped at a stop sign, a stoplight — and then I woke up on the couch in our living room, "Jeopardy!" and the darkness outside the windows telling me it was past 7.

(Given that I was just waking up from the first medicated unconsciousness of my young life, please forgive me if it was actually 8 or 9.)

"Gah!" I said, or would have if my mouth weren't filled with gauze and some weird tongue impostor.

My mother had to convince me that it was all over. I could conjure up a faint memory of people hoisting me from a parking lot past trees into a dark brown building, but it was as though I was watching from afar, or making it all up.

The most astonishing thing, to me, was that my father had ventured to my school to explain to the spring musical's director why I was missing rehearsal for "Oklahoma!" without an excused absence.

My mom usually took care of that sort of school stuff, but instead that night she kept an eye on my sack of bones while cleaning and making dinner.

Regular sleep is vulnerable enough. But to sleep so deeply that tooth surgery won't wake you, and then be lugged home and plopped onto a couch in the midst of family life — how many times will I have an opportunity to show that sort of childlike trust again?

A year later, my mother picked me up from a friend's house, in a richer part of Stockton. I'd been helping my friend with an English essay or a history paper. Freshman year I'd envied her: 4.0 GPA, all honors classes, athlete on the swim team or something, attractive to boys. Now I was bewildered that she was having so much trouble with something I could help with.

I came outside and met my mom's car so she could take me to the dentist's office. And we chatted away through the 20-minute ride home. And we completely forgot to go see Dr. Wong. We felt so at ease we forgot the demands of the world.

Ever since then, I've been a fiend for marking appointment reminders in an appointment book, and setting alarms on my watch or cell phone.

I didn't get a cell phone till I went to college and my parents insisted on it. It was a huge black brick in comparison to the little Razrs we have now — a Zack Morris phone, you might call it.

They wanted me to be safe, and they wanted to be in touch all the time. Whenever I came home for a weekend, I turned it off. No doubt it would have disturbed my dad's nap time.

Often my dad would go take naps as my sister, mom, and I talked in the kitchen or the living room.

Mom told us he took longer naps when my sister and I visited. He felt safer when we were all in the same house, she said, so he slept better.

I began to feel that visit-time sleepiness, too, after a few years. I chalked it up to the boring noiseless suburbs. Nothing to do but sleep, and no street noise to wake you.

Snores softly echoed through the halls. Light bounced off the blinds and the stucco. And my mom, dad, and sister were all home, and I might as well have been 13.

Maybe I'd wake up and find I'd missed "Oklahoma!" rehearsal, but Clinton was still President and my biggest worry was getting into a good UC.

When I think of those seven hours of pill-induced oblivion, I miss them, because I miss my family and my childhood.

We make such strange sounds when we sleep. My sister says I whistle-snore when I'm sick.

As I write this, in my new home thousands of miles from Stockton and from my parents, my husband says "hungh" and rolls over. I don't want to go to sleep yet. I don't want to lay down when no one's watching and listening to make sure I'm OK.

That's the other reason I love the memory of the surgery day: I fell asleep without fearing the abyss.

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at sumana@crummy.com.

To be lugged home and plopped onto a couch in the midst of family life — how many times will I have an opportunity to show that sort of childlike trust again?