Too late (early?) I realize that a couple of Tylenol PMs or a swig of Nyquil would have knocked me out for the night. Sure, I have to pee, but I don’t think that’s what woke me up. Yes, I threw caution to the wind just eight hours earlier when we were dining out by accepting the offer of a refill. I bet the server thought I was a bit odd, first opening my mouth to agree, then pausing and pondering, hemming and haw before finally saying, “Sure!” It’s not like he was padding the bill with a second margarita. He had only asked to top off my ice water.
I don’t think it was that extra water that has me out of bed now, creeping in the dark to the bathroom. Maybe it’s that my body is used to six hours of sleep or less. As I had promised myself, I had gone to bed early last night. I took a book with me as I laid claim to my full half of the bed and share of covers. Yet, after a few pages, I put down the book and turned out the lights knowing I was almost finished with the novel. As much as I love to read, I didn’t want to waste a minute of potential sleep on a book.
It’s now after 4:00 am.
What should I do? Try to go back to bed? Get online? Watch a movie? Finish that book?
I realize this is a “put up or shut up” moment. How many times have I told myself that I would exercise more if only I had the time? Well, here it is: time. I don’t have to worry about Philip waking up. It’s not raining. I have run out of excuses.
I inch my way back into the bedroom, giving one last glance to the warm bed before groping in the dark to find my workout clothes. I pause to listen to Peter’s deep, even breathing before returning to the bathroom to dress.
The dog is waiting for me at the landing. He had been so happy when I went to bed early last night. Ironically, he had raced up the stairs, dashed to his spot and then energetically scratch, scratch, scratched at the sheets he uses as a bed. He turned one way and then the other before sinking to the floor with a satisfied sigh.
We like to joke that he gets the most sleep of anyone in our household, but I wonder if that’s true. He reminds me of a mother, asleep yet still alert to the stirrings of others. He seems so torn sometimes when we divide ourselves between the first and second floors. He has to choose which of the humans in his herd to guard. He has known me the longest, but he fell in love with my husband immediately. If there is food involved, the one wielding the sustenance is always the winner. The amount of crumbs that the toddler generates propels Roscoe near him when Philip eats. Otherwise, we also joke that the dog has a love-hate relationship with the boy. Last night, however, when we came home from dinner without our son, Roscoe came outside not to tinkle but to search for the missing member of our pack.
As I head downstairs, I’m struck by how dark it is. Did the power go off? is my illogical first thought before remembering that I had just deciphered the red digital numbers of the alarm clock and had just been in the fully lit bathroom. Awake, but not quite. Fortunately, after twice missing the bottom tread while carrying Philip in the early hours like these, I’ve memorized the number of steps. One-two-three-four-five-six, I count before grasping for the wall and slowly turning on the landing. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine and I’m safely on the ground floor. The night-light is off. I usually turn it on as part of Philip’s nighttime ritual. All the other lights go off, hopefully cueing him that it is time to settle, to relax, to sleep. But since he wasn’t here, the night-light is off. I turn it on.
It’s 4:26 am when my feet hit the gravel of the driveway. Roscoe transforms into a much younger dog when we go on our walks, especially on longer jaunts like the one I’m planning now. I never have time to walk for an hour on a workday. As I take in my first gulp of cold air, I’m wondering if I really want to walk for an hour in this weather. Then I remind myself: no excuses.
Roscoe is pleased with the route I have chosen. He tried to steer me in our usual morning path, but he is now content with the opportunity to explore a smorgasbord of new scents. As much as I want to keep moving to stay warm, I know I can’t hurry him just yet. He is especially distracted as entered the walking trail behind the community center. I put my foot down on going in reverse, but I do let him stop and smell for a while. I take the opportunity to look up and rewarded with a view of a cloudless, star-filled sky. Orion’s belt. It’s one of the few constellations whose name I know. I spot it plus many other clusters of stars that easily stand out. No light pollution here. And then the moon is a toenail. It looks lovely.
Soon we are moving on. Buoyed by the sight of the stars, I’m heading into downtown. I’m surprised by the traffic on Main Street at this hour. Of course, I’m not usually out on a weekday at this hour. 4:53 am to be exact. I see the time alternating with the temperature (33 degrees. Brrrrr!) on an outdoor clock. I notice that the signage has been updated, the local university’s logo having replaced that of a now-defunct business. I noticed other changes as we make our way down the sidewalk. Is that a new karate studio? Has that tanning place always been there? When did this Christmas tree display go up?
We turn and the incline ahead explains why that was downtown. There is less traffic now. I spot a lone runner, jogging parallel to us, passing us on his side of the street and then crossing to our side. He is soon out of sight.
We come to an intersection. If I turn right, I could walk to my parents’ house, see if there are any lights on. And then what? What if Philip is also awake? What we I accomplish by showing up on foot without my house key or cellphone at this hour? How would my presence improve this imagined scenario? And what if all the lights are out? I’ll have traipsed three-quarters of a mile out of my way for no reason other than to satisfy my curiosity. To quell that small pang as I think about how quiet our house is without him.
If I turn left, I could be headed home. It’s been a good if cold walk. I walked enough, surely.
I go straight. No excuses, I remind myself.
I’m rewarded with the smell of cookies. A couple of miles up the road workers are baking cookies at a local factory. A business name immediately comes to mind even though that company went out of business several years ago. It will always be the other place in my memory.
And I look around the college campus that I’m walking through. It will always be the college to me, even though they changed it to a university over twenty years ago. I’m like a gosling that has imprinted on a creature out of my species. I’m wrong, but my brain refuses to accept that which is new and correct.
There are more cars in the parking lots than I’m used to seeing. Most of the students vacate this suitcase college/university/whatever on the weekends when I’m usually out walking. I’m enjoying this new perspective on the town in which I live.
I have one last chance to walk to my parents’, but I get a grip and make the left turn toward home. It’s 5:11 am.
The rest of the walk is uneventful. We pass some men delivering newspapers. I see leftover campaign signs in yards. We pass a man clad in shorts walking his dog. The walk has warmed me some, but my cheeks are cold and my nose is running. The sight of the other guy spurs me to pick up my pace.
I start thinking ahead. What do I do now? I feel invigorated by the cold and exercise. Am I too awake to go back to bed? Maybe I can join my dad and aunt for their weekly Friday morning breakfast. Maybe I should shower and then go back to bed. I could fix myself a nice, hot breakfast, a luxury I don’t have on most weekdays.
But the house is still dark when Roscoe and I return. I hate to wake Peter by cooking in the kitchen or showering down the hall. And I did promise myself I would sleep in this morning.
5:30 am. I get back in bed, thankful for the warm blankets, thankful that I had the time to exercise, thankful I could treat the already sleeping dog to this walk, thankful I had time to spend with my thoughts.