Skip to Content

Swinging Abby Part 7: The Sign of Sleepiness

I don't remember who came up with the idea, and believe it or not it's not mentioned either in my mom's diary or my memoirs, but The Sign made an appearance in the park quite early on. At exactly 65 hours into the attempt, to be exact. My father made it one day from a piece of plywood and propped it against a large tree near the swing, visible to the passersby on South River Street.

The Sign

 
Every five hours, another layer of red was painted in, giving everyone an idea of where I was in the endeavor and how much longer I had to go. People would drive by and honk their horn, and at one point my sister Melynda was utilized as a stage-hand to hold the darn thing next to me for a newspaper photograph.

Abby with The Sign.

 The Star-Gazette, Tuesday August 28th, 1979.

Everyone loved the sign. I rarely got to see it, and that was probably a good thing as it was too much a reminder of how long I'd been away from my bed. After a week and hundreds of 'miles' on the swing, things were getting a little…strange. My memoirs end abruptly on Tuesday August 28th, and while part of that might've been because of teenage attention deficit, I think some was due to the fact that I really couldn't actually remember much of that second week of my life except the big highlights. Here's another picture of myself and Melynda, taken the same day as above, but without the excitement of a reporter nearby to perk me up a bit. Notice anything unusual about it?

Sleepy Abby with Melynda.

 
Aside from the weariness evident on my face, one of the effects of severe sleep deprivation is evident: the fact that I'm extremely over-dressed compared to my sister. I do somewhat remember this picture being taken, and recall being chilled to the bone despite it being a warm, sunny day.
 
Other side effects manifested themselves in ways that people often didn't understand and over which major disagreements would erupt, but which from a medical point of view are probably entirely logical. I insisted that the other swings on the swing set be tied up so no one could use them. Why? Because having people swinging next to me was not only disorienting but was also enough to make me jump out of my skin with irritation. I developed a strange fear of dogs and small children, afraid they would get too close and bump me off the swing, ruining my attempt. In short, anyone or anything being allowed anywhere near me had almost become a privilege because my small space inside the tarp was the only thing I could control. I took to braiding my hair because even one stray strand fluttering within my vision would set me off into a rage. At night I was sure new lights had been put in the park, which disappeared when I turned to look at them. Voices of people speaking to me sounded as though they came through tunnels, and more than once I nearly tumbled from the swing, asleep with my eyes wide open. It was a rather disconcerting experience, to say the least. How much rest was I actually getting? From my mom's diary, dated 8/31, ten days into the saga (the underlines are hers, which are actually in triplicate in the notebook):
 
Abby has been very sleepy all evening. She doesn't seem to hear what is said to her and doesn't always respond; few smiles were seen from her. I figured out that she has had approx. 31 hours of sleep since 8/20 - the night before she started swinging.
 
Thirty-one hours in ten days. Wow, keep that in mind the next time your teenager is a grouch when rising at noon after a twelve-hour crash. The Beatles' "I'm So Tired", often heard playing on my small tape-recorder, became my theme song, and to this day it causes feelings of sleepy swaying whenever I hear it. Utter exhaustion, puntuated by bouts of manic clarity, haunted me for the remainder of the endeavor, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it except try to cope. Coffee wasn't yet on my menu, and if I recall correctly it wasn't allowed by Guinness anyway. Sometimes the hours passed like swimming through mud.

In the meantime, the daily newspaper coverage continued: The Evening Times, Star-Gazette, The Daily Review - even the Associated Press picked it up as people as far away as Montreal and Louisiana told locals they'd heard about me. Additionally, radio (WQIX-WQIT) and television (WENY) interviews were done. Perk-me-ups abounded: my mom brought my cat Puddy to visit, as he was himself out of sorts in my absence; friends and family called on the phone to say hi and lend words of encouragement (oh, did I mention a land-line was installed next to my swing? Yes. Who wants to order pizza?!); Athens resident Larry Riley lent his battery-operated TV so we could watch me on the news (Local Girl Swings To Fame - film at eleven!); and Gene Paluzzi wrote an editorial encouraging people to visit.

Gene Paluzzi Evening Times editorial.

 
The editorial was well-timed. Not that I had a lack of visitors, but the "Firemen's Septemberfest", a carnival that took place at the Athen's Fire Department across the park, was to begin in two days.
 
And I was about to become one of the main attractions.