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The Sound of Peace

3:19 a.m. 

The numbers were blurred and didn’t much matter because Jalen knew he would be up pretty much all night. He’d sat in that same spot on the couch the previous three nights, watching the clock, flipping through the channels, unable to sleep. He was scheduled to return to work the next day, but how could he when he hadn’t slept in days? He could hear Shana’s snoring from their bedroom and wished he could join her, but she sent him to the couch hours ago, because his tossing and turning was keeping her awake. 

The couple spent a long weekend settling into their new home; four bedrooms in a new development, nearly an hour from the cramped apartment they occupied the first three years of their marriage. Jalen wanted to remain close to the city, close to his job, close to his family, close to the life he knew, but Shana insisted they put some distance between the life they wanted and the issues living in the city offered.

In the end, her happiness was all that mattered to Jalen. He’d lived in the city all his life and had watched neighborhoods go down through the years as poverty, drug abuse, unemployment, and general hopelessness took hold of its residents. Shana’s breaking point came when news of a home invasion in their neighborhood led to the death of a family. She couldn’t do it anymore; she didn’t want to live in fear and felt they had earned the right to not live in that environment. Almost a year later, she slept peacefully, while her husband struggled to even close his eyes. The first night he laid in bed all night, not sleeping a wink. The following night he struggled to get comfortable, shifting his pillows, adjusting the speed on the ceiling fan, and last night he tried watching television to put himself to sleep but instead kept Shana up. As soon as he started tossing tonight, she banished him to the couch, she too had to return to work the next day and couldn’t afford to have a sleepless night.

Surrounded by darkness and left alone with nothing but his thoughts, Jalen grappled with many of the questions that had been on his mind since it was decided that they would move out of the city. Was it about being safe? Was he selling out?  How can he not feel safe around his own people? There were no concrete answers, but he knew that it wasn’t all about him, that he needed to ensure that his wife was secure and this was the place where she seemingly felt comfortable. He would adjust.

But for now, he just wanted to sleep.

4:02 a.m.

It had been hours since he took the sleeping pills Shana gave him and any effect they had was now gone. Warm milk, hot bath, cold water, nothing was helping him get the rest he so desperately needed. He grabbed his cell phone, did random internet searches, scrolled Facebook, but ultimately turned the television on and found an old Charles Bronson movie. 

The character Bronson plays loses his wife to a random act of violence and becomes a vigilante, taking on the ills of the city with a revolver. Much different than the approach Jalen took, but it makes him think about how life in the city could drive you over the edge. There’s no comfort in the thought, it’s just a fact of life. 

6:30 a.m.

Jalen was slumped in the corner of the couch, nearly catatonic, and didn’t hear Shana the first two times she said good morning. She was fully dressed and ready to start the work week, while he stared at her through drooping eyelids.

“Maybe you should take the day off and see a doctor about this insomnia?”

Jalen thought it over and decided that he would take an extra day or two off work, try to get in to see his doctor, but also just ride through the old neighborhood and formally say goodbye, feeling he hadn’t fully made peace with leaving the city.

5:53 p.m.

“Baby, wake up. Have you been sleeping all day? I called and texted you a thousand times.”

 Jalen reached over and saw his phone was dead, held it up as evidence, before standing and stretching.

“I figured out what’s keeping me up all night. It’s those damn crickets, never really heard them too much in the city, but they’re killing me out here.”

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