The lights were on and I was awake. I’d been sleeping on the floor of the bedroom I shared with my sister, where I slept all of that summer in 1999. I was nine years old and our great-grandmother had come to live with us.
I got to my knees and peered over the end of my 12-year-old sister’s bed. My great-grandmother had escaped and was hovering over my sleeping sister. She poked my sister in the back as she repeated each syllable of her name.
Jenna sat up and slid a leg from under the covers. Before my great-grandmother could speak again, she planted her feet on the ground. I stood up as well. We winced with expectancy at my great-grandmother’s nightly ritual.
“My teeth,” said my great-grandmother. “I can’t find my teeth!”
This was funny the first time. It later ceased to be.
“Did you check the cottage cheese container on the nightstand?” my sister asked.
“Yes, yes,” said my great-grandmother.
“Are you sure?” I said.
My great-grandmother sat on the edge of my bed, her blue eyes swelling with worry. She put her hand on her forehead.
“Jenna, where are my teeth?” she asked me.
I was Jenna now, too.
My sister and I began the nightly search of our bedroom. Jenna combed through things my great-grandmother had brought to our house that summer, the same blouses with different patterns and the long strands of beaded necklaces. I searched the pockets of her floral housecoats that hung on the back of our door. Nothing there but lonely buttons and a thimble.
“Where did you wash up before bed?” I asked.
“The washroom,” my great-grandmother said.
“Which one?” I asked.
My great-grandmother stared blankly.
I was tip-toeing my way to the bathroom when I heard my sister scream, “Grandma!” I dashed back into my bedroom.
“Where were they?” I asked my sister, who was standing in front of the nightstand.
She turned around. In her hands was the open cottage cheese container. I walked toward my sister just far enough to see over the rim. I sighed.
I don’t think I slept at all that summer, but it’s not the sleep I miss.