ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2015 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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september 1, 2015
I used to start the day at four in the morning, before the sun came up--such an amazing event repeated each revolution, like trumpets, this massive fireball rising above us, 93 million miles away, but so immense it can still burn us from that distance, blind us from that distance (I mean, come on, it's a flame 93 million miles away and it can still blind us?)--walking through the darkness of our downstairs rooms to the stairs, sitting in front of my monitor in my upstairs study, breathing out the first gray and white smoke of the morning.
But for the past few months my eyes have popped open at one or two, far too close to midnight, black tree limbs outside the white mini-blinds of the windows, and I just can't get back to sleep, I can't, I just can't.
I try. I plod back from urinating, passing the stretched-open mouth of the shadowy bathtub, as if it's witnessed some horror pinging through its pipes, usually irritated to discover our cat Button has used my momentary absence to slither up onto my night table, her licking tongue lowered down into my water glass. Pink lappings, jewel eyes. Who the fuck wants to share a glass of water with a cat? Especially since I know where else her tongue's been? And that tongue hasn't been to an art museum, it hasn't been to the opera. I could trudge out to the kitchen to get a fresh glass, even ice cubes, which are crack cocaine in the middle of the night, but I know the longer I stay out of bed the harder it's going to be to fall asleep, so I crawl under the covers, groggily fax my future self a message (Don't drink the water!), try to get back to blackness.
But of course I can't. Used to be able to. When Mary and I spent our first night in the apartment we rented in Carrollton, Texas on New Year's Eve, moving there from San Antonio because there were no jobs, we were woken in the middle of the night by the wails and revolving blues and reds of police cars, ambulances. Going out onto our second story balcony at one in the morning, looking down in hastily pulled-on clothes--and in the befuddled early moments of that alarm I had stupidly tried to slide my bare legs down into the sleeves of a shirt--we heard people down below in the parking lot talking, whispers rising like ghosts in the dark night air to our second story ears, static-furred police radio voices, and it became apparent a woman in the apartment across the way from ours had just stabbed her boyfriend to death ("just", of course, not in the sense of "merely", but rather "very recently".) We eavesdropped a bit, hanging over the wooden rail, went back inside, slid the heavy sliding glass door to the balcony closed, latched it, got out of our clothes, got back into bed, and before the red minute hand had an opportunity to revolve even once back up to its home of "12", zzzzzzzz.
But that's apparently never going to happen again.
You reach a point, deep into the night, hours and hours of blackness away from the shore of morning, bobbing out there, when you realize you're just not going to fall asleep. It ain't gonna happen. I am so used to this state now that I have picked up some very valuable tips. Do not think of anything worrisome. Do not think about death. Do not think about upcoming appointments you dread. Do not think of any occasion in the past when you feel someone wronged you. Do not decide, Well, I might as well try to plot out my newest story idea. The best thing I've found to think about, unable to sleep, is how the weight of my body feels lying on the mattress. Maybe because it's something physical, rather than intellectual? Trying to shut down the mind, letting the limbs take over. Kind of makes sense, right? It never works, but at least I feel like I have a chance.
I'm not going to start my day at one or two o'clock in the morning, that's just a bad idea, so I lie in bed, shifting my position every once in a while, glancing up at the red digital numbers on my alarm clock, like a dog, to see how much longer I have to shift and stare into darkness before it makes sense to rise. Time passes so slowly when you can't sleep. Minute by minute, and a minute lasts a long, long time, even longer than the time it takes perfume to dissipate from a room.
At four in the morning, already awake for hours, I float like a ghost through our downstairs rooms.
Once I am officially up, and Mary is awake, I drink cup after cup of dark coffee, trying to drug myself back to alertness, to staying awake, my preferred state, like a character whose neighbor still looks like his neighbor, but isn't. Yet as Mary and I lie side by side in bed, watching morning television, with its stupid breaking news about bandits crashing the back of their pick-up into the front glass of a convenience store to steal the ATM machine, my head still lolls leftwards over and over, confusing images and noises sliding into my brain, until I again right myself.
When I was a teenager, I used to sleep past eleven in the morning. Almost noon! And my only concern, spreading my pajama'd legs apart under the sheets someone else would wash was, What's for breakfast?
Like you, who I was is a beach behind me I can no longer swim back to, the sand is too far away; I can only lap forward, through the slapping waves, towards the distant, featureless horizon.