Sleep in Me

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Overview


Against the backdrop of his teenage sister’s car accident—in which a dump truck filled with sand slammed into the small car carrying her and her friends—Jon Pineda chronicles his sister Rica’s sudden transformation from a vibrant high school cheerleader to a girl wheelchair bound and unable to talk. For the next five years of her life, her only ability to communicate was through her rudimentary use of sign language. Lyrical in its approach and unflinching in its honesty, Sleep in Me is a heartrending memoir of ...
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Sleep in Me

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Overview


Against the backdrop of his teenage sister’s car accident—in which a dump truck filled with sand slammed into the small car carrying her and her friends—Jon Pineda chronicles his sister Rica’s sudden transformation from a vibrant high school cheerleader to a girl wheelchair bound and unable to talk. For the next five years of her life, her only ability to communicate was through her rudimentary use of sign language. Lyrical in its approach and unflinching in its honesty, Sleep in Me is a heartrending memoir of the coming-of-age of a boy haunted by a family tragedy.

A prize-winning poet’s account of the irreparable damage and the new understanding that tragedy brings to his Filipino American family, Pineda’s book is a remarkable story maneuvering between childhood memories of his sister cheerleading and moments of monitoring her in a coma and changing her adult diapers. Pineda adeptly navigates between these moments of idyllic youth and heartbreaking sadness. Vivid and lyrical, his story is an exploration of what it means to live deeply with tragedy and of the impact such a story can have on a boy’s journey to manhood.

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Editorial Reviews

Greg Bottoms

Sleep in Me is a sharp portrait of place, culture, and growing up male and confused in weird America while at the same time being a tender elegy for those lost. Written with the intimacy and immediacy of a diary and the attention to language and sound of a prose poem, this is a superlative and heartfelt memoir by an excellent new writer.”—Greg Bottoms, author of Fight Scenes and Angelhead: My Brother’s Descent into Madness

Lia Purpura

“Faced with the loss of a beloved sister, Jon Pineda articulates the currents and depths of tragedy unavailable to outsiders. . . . At the spiritual heart of the book is the drive to discern grievance from real grief. By the end of this tender and honest memoir, a boy’s desire to find and prove himself has strengthened and grown into a man’s thoughtful and freely chosen decision to live bravely, intent on facing forces that threaten to overwhelm and silence him.”—Lia Purpura, author of Increase and On Looking: Essays

Robert Polito

Sleep in Me is the rare memoir that takes nothing for granted. . . . [Pineda’s] concentrated, vivid scenes move along the edges of silence and speech, shadowing a young man’s physical prowess and his sister’s broken body, a far-flung family and inborn dislocation, variously furious, tender, devastated, and gallant.”—Robert Polito, author of Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson

Virginian-Pilot

"Sleep in Me is essentially pure rendered memory, a book that can be taken down from the shelf and opened to any chapter, any moment however random and fleeting, and can make us feel the grand weight of tragedy, and the victory when we fight it."—Noah Renn, Virginian-Pilot

— Noah Renn

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[Pineda’s] muted, lyrical messages, to be savored at length, remind us of the value of listening deeply, to ourselves and others."—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

— Gina Webb

Critical Mass

"Pineda has built his reputation as a poet, but he expands his literary territory with this powerful portrait of love and loyalty between siblings." —Rigoberto González, Critical Mass

— Rigoberto Gonzalez

California Bookwatch

"Pineda’s account of his sister’s cheerleading and overnight transformation makes for a powerful survey of the impact of tragedy on a young boy’s coming of age in this outstanding, vivid family memoir." —Diane C. Donovan, California Bookwatch

— Diane C. Donovan

Greg Bottoms
"Sleep in Me is a sharp portrait of place, culture, and growing up male and confused in weird America while at the same time being a tender elegy for those lost. Written with the intimacy and immediacy of a diary and the attention to language and sound of a prose poem, this is a superlative and heartfelt memoir by an excellent new writer."

-Greg Bottoms, author of Fight Scenes and Angelhead: My Brother's Descent into Madness

Lia Purpura
"Faced with the loss of a beloved sister, Jon Pineda articulates the currents and depths of tragedy unavailable to outsiders. . . . At the spiritual heart of the book is the drive to discern grievance from real grief. By the end of this tender and honest memoir, a boy's desire to find and prove himself has strengthened and grown into a man's thoughtful and freely chosen decision to live bravely, intent on facing forces that threaten to overwhelm and silence him."

-Lia Purpura, author of Increase and On Looking: Essays

Robert Polito
"Sleep in Me is the rare memoir that takes nothing for granted. . . . [Pineda's] concentrated, vivid scenes move along the edges of silence and speech, shadowing a young man's physical prowess and his sister's broken body, a far-flung family and inborn dislocation, variously furious, tender, devastated, and gallant."

-Robert Polito, author of Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson

Foreword

"Jon Pineda turns a simmering lens on his tween and teen years as his family, splintered and stoic, copes with the aftermath of his sister’s incapacitation and demise. In Sleep in Me, Pineda explores, rather than resolves, whether such trauma made him stronger or simply more attuned to heartbreak."—Lisa Romeo, Foreword

— Lisa Romeo

Library Journal
"Pineda lays bare his struggles with family duty and identity in this literary standout."--(Julie Kane)
Foreword - Lisa Romeo

"Jon Pineda turns a simmering lens on his tween and teen years as his family, splintered and stoic, copes with the aftermath of his sister's incapacitation and demise. In Sleep in Me, Pineda explores, rather than resolves, whether such trauma made him stronger or simply more attuned to heartbreak."—Lisa Romeo, Foreword
Critical Mass - Rigoberto Gonzalez

"Pineda has built his reputation as a poet, but he expands his literary territory with this powerful portrait of love and loyalty between siblings." —Rigoberto González, Critical Mass
California Bookwatch - Diane C. Donovan

“A powerful survey of the impact of tragedy on a young boy’s coming of age in this outstanding, vivid family memoir.” —Diane C. Donovan, California Bookwatch
Critical Mass - Rigoberto Gonz�lez
“Pineda has built his reputation as a poet, but he expands his literary territory with this powerful portrait of love and loyalty between siblings.” —Rigoberto González, Critical Mass
Critical Mass - Rigoberto González
“Pineda has built his reputation as a poet, but he expands his literary territory with this powerful portrait of love and loyalty between siblings.” —Rigoberto González, Critical Mass
Virginian-Pilot - Noah Renn

"Sleep in Me is essentially pure rendered memory, a book that can be taken down from the shelf and opened to any chapter, any moment however random and fleeting, and can make us feel the grand weight of tragedy, and the victory when we fight it."--Noah Renn, Virginian-Pilot
Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Gina Webb

“[Pineda’s] muted, lyrical messages, to be savored at length, remind us of the value of listening deeply, to ourselves and others.”—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Disability Studies Quarterly

“In this memoir Pineda explores the difference between self and sufferer—whether that sufferer is his sister or a wrestler he’s pinned or a fish or himself—and sometimes, most beautifully and wrenchingly, they merge.”—Disability Studies Quarterly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803225350
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2010
  • Series: American Lives Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Jon Pineda teaches in the MFA creative writing program at Queens University of Charlotte and is the author of two books of poetry, The Translator’s Diary and Birthmark.
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Read an Excerpt


It could say, You and your family will make it through this.
At the same time it said, Of course, you will die.
The first time I saw the pupil, I believed every word. My sister Rica would try to swing her head, and that brutal pupil of hers, the eye on the side that was paralyzed, the pupil seemed to spread wider. As if inviting the surrounding light to disappear inside it.
Go ahead, it seemed to say, get lost.
So I did.
Now my mother is asking me to help her get Rica out of the car and into the house. This feat involves a series of moves, a strategizing that my mother has mastered since my sister has come home from the hospital. Moving my sister around is a chore my mother endures without question or resentment. If anything, my mother is pleasant in the way she undertakes what has become for her routine. If anything, it is almost inhuman.
Sometimes I get quiet in their presence, as I do now, and my mother simply looks at me. Not in a reprimanding way, nor does she allow for any pity, whether from her or for her.
Help me with your sister, is what she says.
I open the car door and immediately smell the sharp, bitter stench to which I am already growing accustomed. I lift my sister's feet off of the floorboard and position them just so. Her calves are moist to the touch. This makes my stomach turn. I want to gag, but I know if I do, I will offend her.
She is starting to slide slowly onto her side. The emergency brake is already digging into her ribs. Standing up quickly I grab her under both arms and pull her to me. She could be one of our father's duffel bags filled with clothes.
Buh . . . buh, she says, the word never fully forming on her lips.
Stand her up, our mother says. I try. I step in and shift my hips.
Now that I'm on the wrestling team, I think about the hip toss, any other move for gaining leverage on your opponent. But I'm also barely eighty pounds. I don't know if I can move her without my mother helping me some. She outweighs me by at least sixty pounds, if not more.
I don't know if I have what it takes to hold onto her.
It spoke to me.
Who will you let tell your story?
I didn't answer, afraid of what I'd admit.
Outside, Glen, Timmy, and the others were kicking up dust in an empty fi eld where some of the older kids sometimes rode their dirt bikes, launched airs from one dirt clod mound to the next, each mound tamped down with tread, sprigs of weeds leveled. I could hear my friends yelling, cussing up storms in the warm evening.
I stared out the window screen and then back to Rica. Back to the pupil that had a say in both of our lives. Why are you still here? it said.
Because Mom took the boys up to the store to get dinner, and Tinah's still at work.
I watched Rica's mouth. Oh, she mouthed, but no sound.
Outside, the boys were colliding. Looking back, I think of James Wright's poem of the high school players in the stadium, galloping across the torn football field, wrecking one another. Do you wish you were dead? I said out of the blue.
She smiled. She signed No with her good hand, but kept smiling, as if I should understand. I watched her smile. I searched her face for the sister I once knew, but she wasn't really there. I found, instead, the downy black hairs fuzzed above her lip.
The hair was a side effect of the medications she took. And her smooth skin, the light tan complexion that rarely held blemishes, it was no longer smooth but blotched now. As if a burn had graft ed itself to her cheeks and would allow no part of her face to be consistent in tone. Even her eyebrows mocked the ghost of who she had been, leaving little chance that a stranger might see her for the first time and find any trace of the meticulous care she had once been able to take in herself.
Our mother, of course, took her to beauty salons, and sometimes our cousin Judy, who had once been trained in hair and makeup, would come to the house. People cared for her, but it was different now. Each hairstyle was a version of what someone else wanted. Their intentions were good, but even if they asked afterward if she liked it, it was always afterward. She never had a true say in what direction they would take, my sister who just the year before would cut out pictures of models from issues of Cosmo and tape them to her mirror.
I went to the dresser drawer, dipped a cotton swab into the frosted plastic container of Vaseline. I spread it over her chafed lips.
Buh, she said, buh.
It's okay, I said. I could smell her now. I wanted to let her know it was okay. Mom will be home soon, I said. I don't know why, but I sat there next to her with my eyes closed. I'd seen my mother do this countless times, as if she were a monk meditating. I opened my eyes when I felt her hand squeeze mine.
What are you doing? I said.

She was taking my hand and trying to put it between her legs.
Stop it, I said. I know. Mom will be home soon. Just wait.
She smiled again, especially because I was standing up now.
I can't change you, I said.
With her hand, she signed Yes.
No, I can't, I said.
Yes.
No.
Yes.
I can't!
Yes. As she signed this, she smiled, though this time, it seemed menacing to keep responding this way, like she was trying to play a trick on me. Her eyebrows, those whiskered curves constricted, furrowing.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
I.
Learning the Language 3
Beneath the Surface 6
An Almost Perfect Circle 8
Slider 13
First Time 15
The Clothespin 17
Punker 20
Altar Boys 22
Spirit 25

II.
An Endless Retelling 31
My Father, in Some Small
Corner of Memory 35
Translucent 37
Diorama 39
An Entire Life Story,
Instead of a Loaf of Bread 42
The First Dream 45
A Collective Forgetting 48
Yellow 50
Human Chain 52
Sleep 55
Great Bridge 59
This Same Expression 60
The Object of My Affection 62

III. The Unknowable Future 67
Brutal Pupil 71
Almost Morning 76
The Other Boy 78
Suspension of Disbelief 83
Birthmark 93
Hello Again 95
Flat Bott om 97
The Painting 99
Waiting for Sentences 102
Short Life 105

IV.
Silver Plastic Suit 109
The Idea of Weight 112
Dog 117
Pensacola, by Way of New Orleans 120
Promises 124
Everything and Nothing 126
Just in Case 130
Return 133

V.
The Sky 137
The Wrong Bus 141
Homecoming 143
Ritual 146
Another Homecoming 149
Old Nags Head Road 151
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