3 min read

Bedtime Routine, by Camden Rose

A bedroom in darkness except for a small bedside table lamp
Photo by Di_An_h / Unsplash

Content warnings

Anxiety. Intrusive thoughts. Compulsion.

Brush your teeth. Spend equal amounts of time on each tooth. Count if you need to. Try not to look at yourself in the mirror.

When you were a child you lost a baby tooth only to find there was no adult one to replace it. The dentist moved some teeth over, shaved others down, tried to make them look right. You’re now sensitive on your right side to wind, cold drinks, late nights.

Keep your eyes on the sink. Don’t look up. Spit. The froth from your ultra-sensitive toothpaste looks like a poisonous caterpillar as it glides toward the drain.

Wash your brush, then your retainer, though you’re not sure either will ever be clean. Once you watched a MythBusters about how brushes collect poop bacteria within 24 hours.

Spit again so you don’t swallow poop. Use mouthwash. Wince at how much it makes your right teeth hurt, but don’t examine it in the mirror. Never look in the mirror. It isn’t real as long as you don’t look at it.

Even if you feel its shivering breaths on the back of your neck.

Take out your contacts to distract yourself. You always hated poking at your eyes, but you hate glasses more. Glasses could fog up and leave you vulnerable, helpless. You’d rather poke at your eyes than be blind.

You’ve mastered removing your contacts without looking, but you haven’t yet figured out how to put them in in the morning without a mirror.

That’s okay. It’s only there at night.

Throw the contacts in the trash. Hesitate for a moment, your finger on the light switch. The wind outside makes the world seem broken, and you’re afraid the tree tapping on the pane will shatter the glass.

You know it won’t. You’ve checked. You’ve checked everything but the mirror.

Turn off the lights, count your breaths to distract your thoughts from the creak of each step. There are more than your feet make.

It must be the wind.

Run to the bed, you know the way in the dark.

Turn on your bedside lamp. Even though you don’t want to, peer into the darkness. Nothing stares back. Nothing is there.

Calm your breathing. Your watch buzzes. 120 BPM. You’re earning zone minutes.

Tuck yourself in, under the heavy comforter. Pull your feet to your chest so nothing can grab your toes. Close your eyes for a moment. Pull the blanket over your face just in case, but then get scared of what might be under the covers with you. Poke your head out. Sigh in relief. Nothing.

Grab your book so your mind will let you sleep. Get a page in, and find that the words are swimming. Pick up your phone instead.

Pull up social media, feel guilty, and put the screen away. That one sleep test you got years ago said nothing was wrong, but they did recommend you stop using electronics an hour before bed.

So, you try. You go back to your book. The words still swim.

There are more breaths in this room than your own. More than you can count.

The book doesn’t distract you the way you need it to, so give up and take out your phone again. Not social media this time, you won’t fall into that trap. Instead, you’ll go through old photos and go to sleep thinking of nothing other than wonderful day memories.

Move your thumb over to the corner of the screen and press down. Your phone slips, your thumb misses. You click the camera app instead.

It’s on selfie mode. You can’t turn your eyes away in time. It is there behind you. It always is, no matter how you try to avoid it.


Author's Note

This story is semi-autobiographical. Yes, I wear contacts and have a missing tooth. Yes, when getting ready for bed, I avoid looking in the mirror because I'm afraid something is there. Writing this story helped me feel less alone, and I hope reading it does the same for you.

Camden Rose

Camden Rose is a queer author who loves magic. She can often be found at the ocean's edge taking notes on the local mermaid population. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her partner, black cat, and collection of books and board games. You can find her online at www.camdenscorner.com.

Mastodon: wandering.shop/@camdenscorner

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