In the Dark of 3:00 AM

It’s been ten years since I had the cancer cut out.  Here’s something I wrote while the incision was still nice and pink.  Let’s call it my Anniversary Special.

So I got in my licks, didn’t I?

Happily, we didn’t (haven’t?) lose the house.  Just before we were about to default on the mortgage, I got a consulting gig down in Bellevue at a firm I’ve known since the late 1970s.  I wangled a modest base and a respectable override on sales but it won’t make us rich and it won’t let me pay off the mortgage.  Quite honestly, it’s like I’m starting all over again.  That being the case, maybe I can build something out of it – all over again.

About a week later, Jo’s fishing expedition paid off.  She was put on the clock to do some support and help desk work by an old colleague of hers.  Unlike our sorry foray into the passing fad called Hoteling, this dude’s software business involves banks.  As long as he doesn’t stub his toe, Jo should have a job.

With the money both of us are making now, we can get by – and as the future is an imponderable, maybe a shot at the brass ring will emerge once again.  Time will tell.  However, the fear, depression and rage are all gone now and that’s good.  I actually find myself enjoying life again.

As for the cancer, I am only half way to the 5-year anniversary; that day where my doctor can say the magic word “cured” – six more PSA tests are needed.   At a Christmas party not long ago, the conversation turned to health issues and people began to recount the things that were wrong with them.  When my turn came, I said I would give a list of things that are right as it is far shorter (ha, ha, ha).

If ever there were a time when the admonition to take things a day at a time would apply, this would have to be it.  Perhaps, though, that’s the whole point of the exercise.  But nights can be a problem.  I often wake up in the wee small hours with numbers running through my head.  It goes like this: “I’m 61 now and I’ve lived here for 14 years.  That means in 14 more years, I’ll be 75.  And look at this: Jo and I have been married for 25 years and in 25 more, I’ll be 86.  Only Grandma Wid made it past 86 – and she was out of her mind with strokes.  Twenty five years ago, I had no grey hairs and I could deadlift 385 pounds at the gym.  Twenty five years from now – if I am still alive – I’ll be shriveled, feeble, forgetful, deaf and using a walker.  Which means I won’t be able to live here even if I’ve paid off the mortgage.  I’ll be packed off to a dotary where I can crap in my bed and die.”

In the dark of 3:00 AM, this numbers game plays on until I can stand it no more and finally sit up in bed.  Blinking away the sleep, I look out the window across the Snohomish River Valley and to the Cascade foothills beyond.  I see some silver lights twinkling in the old Cadmann quarry on the other side of Highway 203.  The faintly mephitic odor peculiar to nighttime comes drifting in through the Lanai door.

Nighttime has taken on an unwholesome quality and in response, I have opted to leave on a night light.  I look at my hand in the dim effulgence and I almost can’t say that it’s mine.  I’ll touch my face – is this me?  Better yet, who is me? I hear Jo’s soft snoring coming from her bedroom and though I’ve been married to her for over thirty years, I wonder how she has any connection to me.  I think about opening her door a bit and looking in but I don’t; I’m apprehensive about what I might see.

I lay there, hoping to doze.

Some nights I think I can hear Dad’s old Seth Thomas clock ticking away.  The trouble is, it’s down in the livingroom, way on the other side of the house.  With my bad ears, I shouldn’t be able to hear it.

On nights when I get up for whizz call, I’ll catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror and give a start.  Who are you, old man?  Hair akimbo, beard all mussed, chest and belly sagging like sacks full of wet cement, the apparition surely can’t be me.

If I have to put a name to it, I feel like a haint come to haunt its former life; it goes from room-to-room, looking everything over and trying to remember what it all meant.

I feel anxious.

Then the open lanai door brings in the sound of some sort of machine.  Ah: It’s a motorcyclist going through the gears.  He just left the stop sign on 164th and is heading south on Broadway.  Normality begins to return.

I arise and don my robe; I want no more of bed for a while.

Out on the deck, I look to the sky and all its myriad stars and try to shake off the disturbing mind games that have me dreading bedtime these days. Toots, my cat, comes out to keep me company.  A short meow tells me she wants to be picked up and held.  Hoisted aloft, she puts her paws across my shoulder, hooks her claws lightly onto my robe and begins to purr.  Ah, contact with another living being.  I begin to feel less like a ghost.

“Come on, Toots.”  I carry her with me down the deck towards the kitchen’s door, “Let’s get something to eat.”  As we come in, Moe, our older cat, gives a grunt of recognition as he gets up from his pet pad, an electrically heated pillow placed by the Liani where he now spends most of his nights.  I put down some snacks for the cats, pop in some toast for me and pour a glass of milk.  Hot toast in hand, I settle in for an hour or so of switching between CNN, Fox News and the History Channel.

In half an hour or so the night dreads will have passed and it’ll be safe to grab Toots and head back to bed.

I really would like to join Jo, but in these last few years, we have not been able to go to bed at the same time: I am zonked by 9:30 while Jo keeps going until 1 or 2 in the morning.  Also, Jo likes the room as cold as a tomb while I prefer some warmth.  And besides, I thrash a good bit.  So we have evolved into different sleeping rooms.  If I were to join her now, I’d just awaken her and she’d have trouble dropping off again.  I’ll let her sleep.

Sleep?  Yes, but what is sleep?  Where does one go when one goes to sleep?  Are you still who you are when you are awake?  Or maybe you – the spirit, the consciousness, the persona, … whatever – is like the software in your family computer.  Maybe going to sleep is like clicking Start / Shut down / Hibernate: all running programs are written to the hard drive and stored and the power goes off.  When the power is again turned on, i.e., when one awakens, the programs are reloaded into RAM and everything is as it was.  The implication here is that I am nothing but an artifact of my brain; that I am not, well …  Real.  Just a low-voltage current buzzing in a bio-electric device that’s no more “alive” than my PC and the copy of WordPerfect on which I write my twaddle.  Well, I certainly have to Deep Six this idea before I climb back into bed.

“Come on, cat, let’s go,” I say as I scoop Toots from the sofa and head to the bedroom.  Tomorrow will just have to take care of itself.

Thankfully, Toots like to snuggle.

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