Even though I’m a life-long insomniac, I did go through a phase of narcolepsy in college. I could fall asleep just about anywhere, anytime, except in my bed at night. I remember dozing off once at the Spaghetti Factory when I was having dinner with my entire family. It was also common for me to wake up on one of the couches at my school’s library with an unopened textbook on my chest. However, the strangest place I ever fell asleep was the Sistine Chapel.
Like a lot of college students, I studied abroad the summer between my sophomore and junior years. My first choice was an art program in Italy, but ended up getting in a cultural program in Austria. There was another girl in my program, Jessica, who was my sorority sister. We knew each other, but didn’t seem to have much in common. During her college career, she was the PanHellenic president, Greek Woman of the Year and Homecoming Queen (and much more!). She was the classic over-achiever. I on the other hand was well…me. Pretty much content with just passing all my classes, paying my bills and having something to do on the weekends. We ended up getting really close on that trip. I kept things fun and adventurous, and she kept me from walking into traffic or being sold into slavery. I was the Dharma to her Greg. We ended up traveling together on the weekends along with a few other girls from other schools we had become close to.
On one of our free weekends we went to Rome -the city I had originally hoped to spend my entire summer, but now had to reduce to three days. There was so much we wanted to do, and we pretty much did. We saw the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, ate pizza, ate spaghetti, ate tiamisu and of course visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.
Against our program director’s advice, we took a night train there. In Europe, you can travel anywhere on the EuroRail. By taking a night train, it was a much longer ride, but the idea was that you would sleep and then be at your destination when you woke up. Of course we were too poor to spring for the sleeper cars, so Jessica, two other girls and I took over a regular passenger car meant for eight people. We laid all eight seats down so it made something like one big lumpy futon that the four of us went to sleep on. That worked out pretty well until a man wearing a tan suit and white shirt with embroidered flowers opened the door and squeezed in. This is something I would never allow in America, but it was a foreign country and we were taking up double the capacity so we let him in. I was closest to the door so he scooted in next to me. After much adjusting, we four girls huddled together as closely as we could and fell asleep. A little while later, I woke up to find the man cradling me in full big-spoon position. Infuriated, I jumped up and started screaming obscenities at him. “Get the F— out! Get the F— out, you perv!” The other girls woke up and asked me what was going on. I told them I had been groped by Borat who suddenly didn’t understand English. One of the girls, Erica, was some sort of Black Belt in karate or Zumba, or something so I began screaming, “Kick this guy’s ass!” We all screamed and yelled, and then I threw his bags out into the hallway so that he got the hint and left. I know you’re wondering why we didn’t lock the door. There was no lock, but I did tie my pashmina around the coat racks as a barrier after that. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep.
The next day was our big sightseeing day. We bopped around from tourist attraction to gelato stand to souvenir shop for hours. It was finally time to go to the Vatican. I’m not Catholic so I don’t totally understand the appeal of the Pope, but I was super excited to see the art, and especially Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Everything about the Vatican is lavish and ornate and beautiful and everyone must visit before they die. We finally made our way to the Vatican Museum’s which ends at the Sistine Chapel. No one ever told me you had to walk through the entire museum to get to the famous ceiling, so after a while of looking at thousand year old oil paintings, intricate draperies and priceless sculptures I began to get bored. I decided to go ahead of my friends and then wait for them in the Sistine Chapel, which is where I wanted to invest my time. I rushed through what seemed like hundreds of rooms and millions of stairs before finally reaching the Chapel. It was breathtaking. All the stories of the bible were illustrated in brightly colored frescos. Of course, I didn’t know what those stories were, but there was so much to look at and take in, including the most famous portion- the Creation of Adam- where God touches fingers with Adam E.T.-style in the clouds. All I could do was stand there and look up, so I found a seat on one of the benches that made a perimeter around the room and rested my head on a railing so I could comfortably gaze up. It was so relaxing, just staring at the ceiling while dozens of people milled around whispering, creating a kind of white noise.
A moment later, I opened my eyes and realized I had drifted off. It was just a second, but I felt so rejuvenated and refreshed. I looked around but still didn’t see any of my friends. We didn’t have cell phones since it was 2005 in a foreign country, and we were poor college kids, not Japanese businessmen. I had no idea that time it was; only that it was still daylight outside. I decided to go on ahead and wait for them at the exit. I started walking out when I saw a guy from my group who seemed excited to see me, and led me outside. What I saw was everyone in my entire group lying on cobblestone sidewalks in the blistering sun like they were harpooned on a desert island. I immediately knew something smelled fishy when everyone looked up and gave me the stink eye of death. Jessica jumped up, “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you since we went into the museums!” I explained my side of the story and how I dozed off for just a second. They must have snuck by me while I was sitting on the bench. “We’ve all been waiting out here for you for over an hour!” Jessica added. I tried not to smile, as I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, but I did the math in my head and realized I could have been asleep for hours depending on how long they stayed in the museums.
I apologized, but probably not enough for what I put them through, and I was banned from sneaking off on my own from then on. It went down in history as the best summer of my life, and one of the most refreshing naps I’ve ever had.