Are you at that point in life when you have credit cards and an e-mail address, you go to work, are unemployed, raise children, take fertility drugs, have a partner, live alone, have a will, a mortgage, a nicotine patch? Do you ever wake up in the dark and look at the clock? Isn't it always 4:12 a.m.?
The house is a blank. My husband lies beside me, a stalwart sleeper, the sound of his breath cycling on and off like a refrigerator. The streets are still, an occasional car lisping off somewhere in the distance.
I tug up the covers, but something is off. It's my pillow. Is it a pillow? It feels like a sack of socks. My nightgown is wrapped around me like a shroud. Why did I buy it? Why did I put it on my credit card? And when did I even start wearing nightgowns? Whatever happened to sleeping naked? WHY AREN'T THINGS THE SAME ANYMORE!?!? Ach! I sit up and pull the thing off in a sparkle of static, my hair snapping out like spider web.
It's 4:17. I punch the pillow, flip it, lie back and close my eyes. Nada. I take a big breath in and have a slow breath out. I keep my toenails very, very SHORT, but now somehow they are scraping the duvet like parrot claws. All right, I'll examine my body for lumps--NO!!!
I flip over and hold on to my husband. I'm Jewish, raised on cautionary tales and family legends of gastric catastrophe. He was raised Lutheran, nurtured on pastel dreams of Jesus among the flocks.
His family and mine might have fit into the split-screen dinner scene from "Annie Hall." He claims that, in his household, no one ever raised a voice--even once. I know no truth is that uncomplicated. Still . . . Every night he lies down on his back, folds his hands on his chest, closes his eyes and, like a knight entombed in an Anglican chapel, rests in peace. He's solid and warm, but he shrugs me off now like a hair shirt. Even asleep, he knows me, knows I'm awake and about to start my rumba, my repertoire of tics and switches as every grievance and every need of mine troops by in a cavalcade of anxiety. I call it the Hebrew Jeebies.
It's 4:22 now. DAMN!
Too late for a Valium. A drink at this point is out of the question. Books are useless, magazines are boring, catalogues are torture. I get out of bed.
The living room is cold, scattered with wreckage from last evening's activities: my son's shoes, pried off, still tied, under the end table. My empty milk glass--why did I eat those Oreos?--is on the rug.
I spot the television and sit in the dark with the clicker. At this hour, TV is some lunatic dream. Most of America is sleeping, but somewhere ladies are feeling a need to buy cubic zirconium dainties and cuckoo clocks.
CLICK. Wow, an early Don Johnson movie! Click. "Matlock," click! My God, hold it--it's "Perry Mason." Its 4:27, so that means, YES--the blonde is on the stand. Hamilton Burger objects, but Perry bears down. She's cornered. She talks, she breaks! She did it! I KNEW IT!
Now Perry, Della and Paul are back at the office, Della's pinning on her little felt hat, everybody's smoking and chuckling ironically with the exonerated client. They pick up their coats and leave, obviously to go home where they will sleep the sleep of the just.
At 4:30 comes the day's first news--a hash served up from last night's mayhem. The night has produced a body count. There are baby snatches and car crashes, refugees and fresh graves, the shameful and the deranged, beaming pictures of innocent victims, composite sketches-- ENOUGH!!! It's 4:45. The alarm goes off in two hours.
Suddenly the prospect of two hours' sleep stretches before me like an empty beach.
I tiptoe back to the bedroom and slide in beside my husband. Exhausted by consciousness, I snuggle up and tuck my arm around his chest. My eyes close. I see green hills, a blue sky filled with a friendly fleece of clouds. Suddenly I see Jesus, who beckons me--me!--with a delicate, protective hand. Lambs scamper behind my eyes, and I soon fall into the rhythm of my husband's blameless breath.