Two in the morning. That's when I've been waking. I go to bed at nine, read for half an hour, shut out the light, fall asleep around ten, and need at least six but more like eight or nine hours of sleep. Instead I get four and a half, my body coming awake right around two, something wrong. Anxious dreams of school, my dead father, being lost and having no home, pull me out of sleep right around two in the morning. I'm still tired but my body says that it will not rest. It cramps, aches, moves, shifts, turns, flops, wrestles, clenches, and sends out signals via a tightening of my calf, an alarm from my bladder, a flexing of my shoulders and neck. Two in the morning I'm so tired and so awake.
I get up, use the bathroom, then come back to bed, quietly, trying not to disturb my wife who has her own troubles with sleep. Some nights she is simply up until two, three, four in the morning because her brain won't let her sleep. An inherited trait, there's nothing much to do about it other than medicate herself into slumber, something about which she's anxious and so am I. This morning she is deep in sleep as I return to bed, lie down, and pull the blanket up around me. I shouldn't bother even trying to go back to sleep. I can tell my night is over. It's nearly two-thirty. I give it a shot but know I'm just going to keep moving the bed and that my mind will keep moving me from sleep. I doze and wake, doze and wake. By half past three I've had enough. I push back the blankets and get out of bed.
Downstairs I make a cup of decaf then head down to the basement nook and write three pages. I check email and skim past the bad news in The New York Times and Washington Post, then give up the internet as bad business. Up in the kitchen I eat a small bowl of cereal then build a nest on the couch in the den where I sit under blankets to read Diane Ackerman's One Hundred Names For Love her story of her husband's stroke and, I hope, recovery. It reminds me over and over that we live perilously close to disaster. I read about them leaving the hospital, arriving home, practicing how to get up after a fall, enduring a speech-therapist's visit, swimming in the pool, starting at their yard in Ithaca, but then wake up with the book open on my lap and time having passed me by. Not much time. A brief snooze. A kind of nap. A snatch of rest. It is six-thirty in the morning and the room is still dark.
My wife wakes and comes down the steps. I am dozing again and wake enough to hear her but not enough to open my eyes. She pads through the living room opening blinds, shutting off the front lights. I hear her footsteps in the hall and then softly on the den carpet. I say a drowsy hello as I open my eyes and she startles, inhaling deeply, gasping really. Did she think I was dead? A bundle of blankets left on the couch? No, she hadn't even seen me and had come in merely to shut the light. She laughs in relief. I thought you were in the basement writing. I shake my head and smile. She encourages me to go up to bed. No. I'd sleep until noon up there and be up again at two the next day.
Instead I go up to shower. In the bedroom I see the full laundry basket. Take that down and wash it next, I tell myself, tossing my socks in and setting it by the bedroom door. I go into the bathroom, turn the shower to hot, strip down, hang my towel from the hook near the shower stall, set out the bathmat. When I open the door the stall is filled with steam. Ah, I whisper, and step into the warm flow of water.
There are few things so comforting as warm water all over my body. I have been known to sit in a hot tub longer than warning signs suggest. I can sit, float, swim, wade, and stand in a warm Florida pool until the exposed skin on me burns red and hot. I would bathe in our tub but it would need a heating coil to keep it from becoming a tepid pool of my own filth. I can easily imagine myself as the frog in a pot of water coming slowly to a boil. What a way to go.
In the shower I get to thinking of Aaron Sorkin. I've read that he has a spectacular shower in his office so when the writing stops, as it often does for him, he can stand in the warmth until the words come loose. I imagine him at his desk the words slowly freezing, coming to a halt in a jumble suspended in crystal lattice. Then, as the hot water and steam envelop him, all the words come unstuck and begin again to flow down the stream. Do they then go down the drain? There are parts of this I haven't worked out fully.
Next I recall the first place in which the shower was a haven. My first year at Clarkson where, in Ross Hall, the showers in the common bathroom were not confined to individual stalls or separated by partitions but consisted simply of four shower heads mounted on one tiled wall. I would go down there in the morning or at night after basketball, set my shave kit and clean clothes on the sill, hang my towel on a hook, and drop my dirty clothes on the floor. If someone was already in the showers, I would step gratefully into the steam, say hello, and go about my business. Sometimes the other guy was a talker and that was okay, but most guys were quiet and it was easier to enjoy the shower. If I was alone, I would crank the shower up, the water was immediately warm, and put my head under it to feel the warmth rain down.
Clarkson wasn't a good place for me, but I didn't know it all the way through. I had the feeling it was wrong and I was wrong too, but these things take a while to sink in. I want to believe that whatever is wrong is something I can fix. Sometimes it is. At Clarkson and in my current situation, it is not. I often stood under the shower, letting hot water wash over and seep into my system, feeling mysteriously better, comforted maybe, but when I shut off the water, I was back in that tiled bathroom, off of the narrow hallway, living with fifty other boys who all seemed to have figured out things which remained mysterious to me. I remember one time turning back around and going back under the shower marveling that it never ran out of hot water.
Back in our shower at home I wash my hair and rinse. I rub soap between my hands, wash my body, and rinse. The heat rises in the shower as I turn the lever farther left. I let the water run, put my head back under, stretch out my hands in the stream, turn my back to the flow, and close my eyes. If only I could sleep in here. I imagine floating in a warm pool, rocked into a deep, dreamless sleep. Shaking my head at the idea, I turn the water off, feel an immediate chill made worse by opening the shower door, and press the thick towel against my chest. I pull it up over my head, then press it with both fists against my eyes until I see stars. Drops of water fall from me and splatter against hard tile.
I dry myself and dress, bring laundry to the basement and start the washer, shave my face, address a letter to my sister-in-law and put it at the mailbox. My wife and older daughter have left for an eye appointment. My younger daughter is having breakfast. I've written whatever this might be. The house is cold. Heavy hooded sweatshirt, wool socks, and still I'm cold. I think of the shower. I dream of a hot tub. I blink slowly and feel sleepy in the back of my throat. How does that happen? How does fatigue lodge itself there. My shoulders are loose and drooping. I hold my back straight. My body is tired. My mind too. My heart and soul? I don't know about that.
Upstairs, just before coming down with the laundry, I saw that the bed was unmade, the blankets, three of them, twisted together. My pillow stuck out of the flannel case. I pulled the blankets straight on my wife's side, walked around and fixed the pillowcase, pulled the blankets from one another. I folded and tucked, smoothed with the palm of my hand. Outside I listened to the sound of a jet moving up and away, knowing it was already gone before I heard it.
I didn't give even a moment's thought to lying down, going back toward sleep. I had things to do and words on my mind. Which of the two woke me at two? I thought of Diane Ackerman's husband and how a blood clot or some other microscopic event can crash the fragile lives in which we travel through time. Whatever is waking me so early in the morning is beyond my ken, a mystery that will either continue to dog me or be washed away. It's nearly noon. I am tired, weary even, and cold.
Rest is necessary for the body and mind. I've heard of a cruel experiment in which dogs were awakened just as they were about to sleep drove them insane. As if we needed proof of something so obvious. As if such things weren't clear to everyone awake at two in the morning or standing under the warm shower waiting for answers to how to sleep through the night and live through the day.