Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Night owl

Back when I was a responsible adult working a full-time job, I tried hard to keep a relatively set bedtime so that the waking up portion of my day would be posed for minimal discomfort. I've always been this way, and yeah, I did the whole flashlight-under-the-covers thing as a child, mildly scolded for the virtue of reading; in reality the scolding came more for the trouble I'd pose in the morning covers pulled tight over my sleepy eyes. In high school my father used to phone me from work to wake me up at 6:45 am. The neighbor who drove me to school would usually phone again at 7:10, wondering if I was ready yet. Just a minute was generally my mumbled reply to my earnest callers.

Just another minute was also my bargain to myself whenever I tried to push back my bedtime. I'm almost through watching this show; I've just got another chapter to read; I'm already IN BED, I'll turn the light off in a minute; I'll stay up just another minute, we're out of bread so I don't have to make lunch tomorrow; I'll let him shower first so I can stay up a few minutes longer. I'd steal minutes from the morning trying to extend my self-imposed curfew, the extravagent pleasure of indulgence of the night owl so much more satisfactory than the thin satisfaction of virtue of the early bird. Each quarter hour had the attendent burden of guilt as a penance, each hour the self-scolding voice a little louder a little harder to ignore.

The day I got laid off last week I couldn't sleep that night, though all I wanted was to fall into the dark warmth of dreams. Every time my head fell back onto the pillow, the rear projector in my mind went into overdrive, clicking images from the day, the accompanying soundtrack of my thoughts and judgements blending faster into a high pitched whine youshould'veseeitoldyoujustnotgoodenoughwhydidn'tyoucan'tyoudowhat'sthepoint. The shot of disbelief I'd received that day was wearing off, and my brain tingled and ached, thoughts sparking and not quite connecting into meaning. I know that a haphazard late night is fertilizer for bad habits; an unoccupied brain gasoline for self-doubt, self-loathing, clearing the brush of inertia to reveal the bleak, dark landscape of depression that morning light can't push away. Luxury can molder into sloth, the velvet of night becoming a musty damp garment I can't unbutton from around my throat.

Simply put, I can't trust myself yet to find the natural rhythms of my body. I've bartered and bargained my sleep for so many years that I can't seperate the gentle tug of the night from the sucking eddy of excess that keeps me from the restful current of falling into sleep.

Last night I went to an open mike to watch a friend play guitar. He was supposed to go on around 10, but his set didn't start until nearly 11:30. I kept glancing at the time, stifling my yawns, vacillating between a glass of water and another beer. I wanted to stay until the end, proved I could still stay up without becoming peevish. Instead, I came home within another hour to go to bed. I walked past the tv, got only a glass of water from the kitchen instead of a sandwich. It was time to go to bed, I was tired, I'd done enough. When I finally scooted the cat out of the way to lay down, I sat up for a few minutes. It felt like I'd forgotten to do something. I looked over, noticed the YOU SHOULD slightly dusty on the bedside table. It seemed smaller than I remembered. I picked up the soft I CHOOSE, curled up, and went to sleep.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Walking the dog

Today I woke up before the alarm went off; a rarity in my life as I generally try and squeeze in every drop of sleep that I can, head happily wedded to my pillow, lidded eyes calm and peaceful. When I do open my eyes, I am still, listening for signs of movement in the house, trying to gauge the time by the quality and strength of light through the lacy curtains. It seems late, probably 9:30 but it could be close to 11. I feel rested and ready to get up, another rarity. I reach for my phone on the bedside table, stretching the other hand to pat the empty pillow beside me. No cat comes to cup her head into my open palm. I glance beside the bed, no black furred dog lying in wait. I squint as I bring the cell closer to my face. 8:15.

I could lie in bed and wait for the alarm. I could lie in bed and wait for my lover, hope for a consoling cuddle. I could try to divert him back into bed for more. Or I could stick to my plan of getting up and taking the dog for a walk. Obligation to others is so much easier, sticking to the promises that I make to myself seems impossible at times. I get up, pull on shorts, a bra, sit down to put on socks and tennis shoes. My lover comes in, approves of my outfit, grins as I pull a face at him and slip on my tee-shirt.

Downstairs, the dog looks up at me uncomprehending when I grab her leash and ask her if she'd like to go for a walk. It's a rhetorical question, but her lack of tail-wagging enthusiasm is disconcerting. I guess I've skipped too many walks; she used to start circling and prancing in circles in the bedroom whenever I slipped on a pair of sneakers. I ask her again about taking a walk, my voice higher and more enthusiastic as I slip on her collar. I used to walk her nearly every morning, but fell out of the habit as the demands on my time from my job became stronger, the hours longer, the unwillingness to get up rising with the shrill voice of my alarm clock. Well, I think, a grim smile on my face, I can do this every day now if I like. I can make it up to the dog, get back in the habit, I can walk more or try and start jogging again. I can swim in the afternoons, get my bike fixed for doing errands instead of driving. I can walk her twice a day if I want. Last week my job ended unexpectedly, unceremoniously; no more 14 hour days no more being too tired, no more turning down invitations, no more demands on my time. My time is now wholly my own. I can do whatever I want.

I walk out the door, automatically start to turn right at the end of the driveway then pause. She looks up at me, confused. This is the way down to the park, this is the way that we always go. We could go any direction today, though, I don't have a set time for the walk, I don't need to know how long it will take to get back home so I can shower and eat breakfast before getting in the car and driving to work. I don't need to prioritize checking my email or packing a lunch. Maybe a new route would be better, I hardly ever just stroll around the neighborhood. The leash tugs at my hands, but I pull back and my dog sits down, still looking up at me. Maybe I should just head back inside. I can't decide which way to go.