The other PMS

It’s one thing your mother didn’t mention when she explained what makes a woman a
woman and a man a man. Even later, during the “when two people love each other…” talk when you thought she’d spilled her guts, she really only glazed over the subject. “Just close your eyes, relax, and pretend it’s not happening,” was my mom’s advice.

Eeeewwwww! Sounds awful!” I said. “But Dad doesn’t do that, does he?”

“Yes, most men do, some worse than others,” she replied delicately. “You have to focus on the good parts of your marriage and learn to live with it.”

I still couldn’t imagine my father doing such a loathsome thing to my mother. Then I remembered hearing him once when I was old enough to know what I was listening to, but too young still to know I shouldn’t stick around to hear more: “Haaaaawk …phew…. haaaaawk…” Yup, he was snoring, for sure. But did he do that every night? Yuck!

In time, I grew accustomed to the whole idea and figured if I loved my husband very much I could cope with regular assaults on my ear drums. How naive I was! I’ve been married for more than 30 years now and, in that time, I’ve learned how to stand by my man, bless his heart, no matter what. But I still for the life of me cannot lie passively beside him while he violates my peace and quiet. I’ve become a desperate victim of the “other knd” of PMS: Persistent Male Snoring. Turns out, it shares many physical and mental symptoms with the monthly feminine “syndrome” that’s been so widely publicized with one big exception: For this PMS, there’s no handy pill I can take the minute I feel it coming on—no magic medicine that transforms me into a sociable, witty and well-adjusted morning person from the axe murderess I almost was the night before.

I suppose I’d fare better if my husband’s night sounds were of the rhythmical, predictable variety. Breathe in, out…inhale, exhale—the old “haaaaawk….phew” I’d come to expect from my adolescence. I could even have tolerated a few intermittent chirps and snorts now and again. What I got, instead, was a repertoire of rasping and puffing that changes nightly. I mean, if Central Maine Power ever found a way to harness all the wind energy available in my bedroom, they’d be paying me by the megawatt!

Were I a heavy sleeper like my husband (who always emerges from the din rested and refreshed), I would have started moving to the couch years ago. But, considering that my before-bed ritual involves 10 minutes of fluffing and smoothing and blocking out the urge to check under the bed for monsters, I know I’m not a good couch candidate.  Besides, my pride is wrapped up in this, too. What am I made of, I ask myself, that I can’t withstand  the sound of a vibrating palate? It’s just another fact of life, after all, and to retreat would be to deny my very gender.

So, I lie there, trying to be tolerant. As the darkness turns to dawn and my sleeping partner is emitting his 324th round of raucousness, I once again realize why my grandparents had twin beds and why the wives of nobility kept their own sleeping chambers. “Now get the heck away from me before you start snoring,” is how women ended their romantic encounters, I imagine, before building costs forced most couples into one bedroom.

Before my kids were born, I tried every form of ear plug on the market, plus a few homemade devices. My first was a set of pencil erasers, the colorful, removable kind that were a big deal in second grade. Just shove in and rotate and all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. But those were high on volume control, low on comfort. So I soon switched to drug store variety ear “stopples”—a wax product with much the same properties as those fake lips popular when I was a kid because they were the only plaything you could eat after you were done goofing around with them. My stopples provided a perfect solution—right up until the dog ate them off the top of the headboard.

Motherhood eventually put my search for ear plugs on hold and I was left puzzling how to attack the problem at its source. Women’s magazine offered suggestions, but most were good only for a chuckle: “Have your husband change sleeping positions when he starts to snore.” (Duh! This worked for about eight years until he became immune to poking and prodding and turned into an ambidextrous snorer.) “Sew a marble to the back of his pajama top so he can’t sleep on his back.” (That might have worked since, in lieu of a pajama top, I’d have to affix a marble with duct tape. Then, after he lost most of the skin off his back, he really wouldn’t be able to sleep on it!) I also remember a Cosmopolitan ad for an anti-snoring collar that jolted the offender with a high-voltage buzz each time his throat vibrated. (Only Cosmo would recommend electro-shock therapy for the guy who shares your bed. Think he would come back for more?) And don’t even talk to me about Breathe Right strips. Been there, done that. I still lose sleep and, I figure, at least 75 cents a night, while Tom loses the top layers of skin off his nose.

Moving to Rangeley did give me a brief PMS-free period, one that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I was up here holding down the fort for a few weeks while Tom commuted from NH until the end of his teaching year. During the day, I unpacked and organized, reorganized and unpacked some more. At night I lay there in the deathly stillness of my new bedroom in the woods, listening to an old wind-up alarm clock like an orphaned puppy and promising that, once I had my husband back for good, I would never complain about his snoring ever again.

Two weeks later, he was half way through a new box of nose strips when I sat bolt upright in bed, glared down at him snuffling and snorting through his wide open nasal passages, and demanded: “Why can’t you just learn how to breathe right?”

Most nights I can console myself that I’m not alone. This affliction has been dragging women down for years, good women who would be fantastic women if they could just get some sleep. I drift off when I can, dreaming of all my sisters-in-suffering who would be winning beauty contests, Pulitzer prizes and Olympic medals–and probably running for president–if only there was a cure for this other PMS.

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