I’ll admit it—I had been under a lot of stress.
It seemed like everything in my life was all of a sudden coming to a head. I was living 2600 miles apart from my wife in what may very well be the world’s worst bachelor pad. My school orchestra was performing at the Midwest Clinic, the world’s most prestigious pre-college music event. I was gigging like a fool. And I had decided to leave my job but not tell anyone just yet. I was in hardcore orchestra director mode, recording rehearsals and listening back while furiously scribbling notes, trying to keep my temper in check and my outlook positive so as to not go postal on the kids.
Layers upon layers of pressure…
I collapsed most nights on the couch, intending to watch a little Netflix but falling asleep in some contorted position moments after kicking up my feet. But I always made sure to set my multiple iPhone alarms the moment I walked in the door, knowing that, if I didn’t, I would be likely to fall asleep before even thinking about it.
My Brush With Surreality
One morning, with a wooden taste in my mouth and a feeling of unease creeping into my mind – my circadian rhythm felt off – I was asleep in a vampiric pose, arms crossed over my iPhone.
I glanced at the clock—7:30 am! That was a full two hours past my alarm. I’d never slept that late. What the heck?
I got up and staggered groggily into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I turned to face the bathroom mirror, I gasped at what I saw: my face was covered in blood! And not “cut yourself shaving” polite little blood spots but more like something out of a horror movie: thick, ropy blood was all over my face, neck, ears, and hair!
My initial panic at simply being late to work took on an aura of surrealism as I washed off the dried blood, revealing two wounds of surprising depth and length.
What on Earth had happened the night before? I hadn’t been staggering around like a drunk idiot the night before. I had pretty much just gone to bed when I’d gotten home.
Could I have been sleepwalking? Well, I’ve been together with my wife for the past 16 years, and she has never once seen evidence of me sleepwalking. Neither had my family growing up. It could have just started happening, of course—it had been a really stressful fall, after all, much more so than normal… but was that how stress was going to manifest itself? Also, what the heck in my place would have cut me exactly like that? I did a quick glance around the place but couldn’t find any sharp corners spaced like that, nor anything with dried blood on it (which I’d imagine there would be plenty of given the condition of my face).
Could it have been… the cats? Our cats aren’t declawed, and it had been a while since I’d trimmed their nails, so they were both sporting a pretty fearsome set of talons. Also, they loved to sleep on top of my chest at night. Usually, one cat would sleep on my and one would sleep on my wife. Since my wife had been in San Francisco, the cats had taken to fighting with each other over who got to sleep on my chest.
The likely scenario suddenly became clear, and as I came to this realization I also noticed some other wounds that, while not as obvious as the facial lacerations, were actually more puzzling.
- I had a few other short lacerations (though not as deep) on each hand
- I had strange cuts and scuffs on the inside of my wrists
- Both of my knees were rather badly skinned.
Never in my life have I wished more for security camera footage to consult (footage of my car inferno would be a close second).
Was I….battling the cats? Did I spring up like an angry zombie and careen around the apartment chasing after them, then collapse onto the couch to slowly bleed myself to sleep?
Another, more troubling, thought occurred. I hadn’t seen the cats that morning yet. Had I strangled them both in my sleep? They’re fairly large cats—more like small bobcats than regular house cats—so that seemed unlikely, but my heart raced as I zipped from room to room looking for them.
I found them both, looking peaceful and quizzical—certainly not scared of me.
Ummm…? Maybe I didn’t battle them after all.
This is how our cat Dan looks when he’s panicked, by the way:
OK—so, if I battled them, they seemed pretty uncharacteristically chill about the whole thing. Also, as I thought more about it, how could it be that a cat’s claws (five per front paw) make only one deep incision, and then another nearly identical incision at a 90 degree angle?
I vision of Dan sneaking up on me, one sole claw extended, then slashing “ha! meow!” down, and then another blow across “take that, human!” before retreating back into the shadows.
Had I angered the cats somehow? I’d had them for over a decade. Why did they pick today, of all, days, to make their move?
The skinned knees were almost the most confusing, especially since I didn’t have carpet in my place. What the heck had been going on that night to make me skin my knees, for Pete’s sake?
Here’s my best guess as to what happened:
I was already late for school, so I packed up my bass (did I mention that I had two gigs later that same very day?) and headed north, making it just in time for my first class.
Scaring the Children
Looks of confusion appeared on the faces of kids when they saw my head wounds, and not wanting to individually answer the same question sixty-odd times, I hid in my office until the bell rang and then burst into the orchestra room, Freddy Krueger-style.
“What’s wrong with my face?”
“Do you have any idea what happened?”
“Because I don’t….”
I suddenly became the most interesting adult of the day to them, like some character actor out of Blue Velvet or Pulp Fiction. Concern morphed into merriment as people pitched in to help “solve the mystery.”
We all seemed to agree on the following points:
- The cats were the most logical explanation.
- The skinned knees were most perplexing fact. How could that have happened given all the other circumstances?
- Sleepwalking also seemed plausible, but the lack of any history of sleepwalking plus the skinned knees didn’t really add up. Also, I couldn’t find anything in the place that was even remotely likely to have caused those wounds.
- Deep examination of the head wounds makes the cats seem unlikely as well. I mean, what kind of strange claw work would cause two single, extremely deep 90 degree angle wounds?
I then realized that, in my understandably confused morning state, I had forgotten that I was playing a rehearsal and concert that day after school. I did the math, and there was absolutely no way that I could make it back home to pick up my tuxedo and make it to the gig on time.
Even though I lived an hour away from school, I knew that I had to drive home and back and hope that I made it in time for my next orchestra.
I made it back in the nick of time, complete with UFC-style face wounds… and wearing a tuxedo! The kids didn’t know what question to ask first (tuxedo? knife fight?) as they streamed into the orchestra room.
Do I Live With Diabolical Sociopaths?
Actually, I suppose that the answer to that question is yes for any cat owner, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise. But I digress…
I spent several nights after the “incident” basically sleeping with one eye open. I’d drift off, then wake up suddenly, usually greeted with the sight of two sets of glowing cat eyes hovering very near my face.
Did they do it? Did they really knife me in my sleep? And if so….
would they do it again?
If you enjoyed this story, you’d probably get a kick out of hearing about my car explosion, conductors falling off the stage and babbling incessantly, lack of pants, nasty auditions, and other tales of gigging surreality.