A coma, one of her doctors explained. It was the first time I had heard the word coma. It seemed like a strange word, too, just a letter away from comma. Comma seemed more fitting, a visual pause in the sentence of her life. The room blinked from the bouquet of red and violet lights, the mechanisms at work to cycle air in and out of my sister's ruptured lungs. Looking at this body I had to believe it still held Rica somewhere in the realm of its dreaming.
Jon Pineda's account of his sister's transformation from a popular, energetic cheerleader to a mute, wheelchair-bound enigma after a horrible car crash surpasses expectations. One can expect the heartbreak, the frustration and the detachment that comes from adolescence and family turmoil, but Pineda has such a gift for haunting and lyrical prose that the reader actually experiences these emotions with him. Empathy gives way to something more tangible; you're there with him as he tries to piece himself and his family together after this tragedy, you feel his pain and rage.
Memoirs often give way from a topic to focus on a coming-of-age story, and at times the tone is lost. Not so with Sleep In Me; Pineda recounts a near drowning and is reminded of his sister, who at the time was still in a hospital bed lost in a coma. Suddenly he is rescued and the acceptance of death is torn from him, giving way to a brisk reminder of life:
No sooner had I thought I was dead, than I realized I was going to live. Then there was the sky.
It seemed so small. What I could make of it. The waves occasionally slapped me in the face like a frustrated parent, or more like one who had been so scared, her reaction was to slap out of fear. I could understand that kind of fear forcing you to do things you wouldn't normally do.
Pineda's assertion that the Rica he knew died in the accident and someone else emerged is understood. His frustration, shared with Rica herself, at the doting pity heaped on her by strangers in public, is palpable. Truth is concealed in the guise of politeness, the strain of things unsaid.
His escape into music is nothing short of therapeutic, though it's not a panacea. He forms a band with some friends and finds himself to become "part of the scene", knowing that "all [he] had to do was pretend not to care".
The entire novel is tension, drawn tight and thick. You want Rica to wake up. You want her to speak. You want Pineda to tell you he was just kidding, it was all a dream. But this happened, on June 14th, 1983. I was just turning three when Pineda's life changed, and his family's life changed, forever.
Sleep In Me is in no way a light read, but it is a beautiful one, and something I can recommend to all readers without hesitation.