I remember being five years old in 1987.
My ten-year older sister—whom I idolized—would sleep the day away; an equally permed, teased, and garishly made-up friend conked out beside her in her queen-sized bed in her smoky room that was plastered with posters of hair-metal bands.
As I mobbed my scooter through the small yard of our duplex, trying not to smack my head on the tree with our shoddy, homemade tire swing, repeatedly trying to trick my grandparents into believing a rubber egg was, in fact, a real one by slipping it into the egg carton, one thing was made abundantly clear: my sister (and company) were not to be disturbed.
We tiptoed through the house—elusive Pacific Northwest sun streamed through the windows in Spring and Summer as I expected her to wake up any minute now…any minute. The morning ticked by and turned into the afternoon. I was both restless and enchanted. My sister was nothing if not cool, and cool people were clearly night owls. I had proof of this developing theory in the form of a T-shirt my great-grandmother in Vancouver, BC, gave me. Across an urban skyline, it stated, “I Love The Nightlife.”
I did not, of course. At that age, I most certainly loved day life. I loved catching butterflies, which may have hurt the ecosystem, and if so, I’m sorry. I loved exploring the various rocky beaches and sprawling green parks in Washington state. I loved gliding down mammoth hills on my banana seat bike and wandering to the local street fairs and video stores in any kind of weather…up until my teenage years when I too became like a vampire, apparently too cool for daytime. Fulfilling the T-shirt’s prophetic assertion that I would, in fact, love the nightlife.
In retrospect, I’m not sure if love is the right word. I’m not even sure I liked it, however beautiful the glittering Seattle skyline is against a velvety night sky. Learning what I liked or loved came a far distant second—or third or fourth—to learning how to be liked and loved, and the nightlife, it seemed, loved me.
The freaks came out and as a queer, disabled, poor, neurodivergent type, it was time for my freaky, geeky self to come out. Into the shadows, I sought the glamour of generations past—more from the voyeuristic position of a writer than as a participant. I sought to uncover what may have been concealed from me on the light side of the moon just as I’d loved to turn over every rock as I hunted for insects in the daylight all those years ago.
I discovered alcohol and cocaine and morphed into a freaky hybrid type of 90s gothic something or other. I stayed up all night and slept all day. And then I stayed up for two days, and three, and slept for four.
“Time is a man-made construct!” as they say now. I fell into a timeless vortex; the structure of the waking world dissolved into the endless night. I lost chunks of my identity and self-esteem in the warp zone.
Eventually, with many stops and starts, I was able to kick cocaine and alcohol for good, but not the nocturnal lifestyle I’d adapted to.
I had two babies back-to-back in my 20s. They kept me up breastfeeding every few hours at night and we would nap and idle our days away. As they got older, I adjusted them to a “normal” schedule, but not myself. My identity was too wrapped up in an expired image of what “a writer” looks like.
I was Boroughs and Thompson. I was reluctant to give up cigarettes or other habits of retro fringe dwellers, banging away at the keyboard all night, unkempt with dark circles during the day after a dozen cups of coffee. As fluid time went by, I worked at bars and took graveyard shifts at department stores, sporadically.
Following my emergency brain surgery in 2016, my epileptic seizures worsened but it took me a while to get the memo that I would need to seriously reevaluate my then decades-long habits in order to gain any semblance of control over my condition. I continued on as I’d had been—sleeping until I absolutely had to wake up, hitting snooze too many times, crawling to the coffee pot, loading up on sugar and nicotine, staying awake until whenever.
At that point, there was no difference in my mind between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I thought…until I was nearly dead and not ready to go gently into my eternal sleep in my 30s. Part of the problem with my sleeping habits, or lack thereof, was my inability to stick to a medication schedule. After witnessing Grand mal seizures regularly, my roommates urged me to get my meds in order and get on a regular sleeping schedule. It has taken four years to discipline myself to sleep at night and wake during the day as I make my way to the ordinary world.
At first, my self-imposed bedtime was midnight, as I had my med call at 8 a.m. Due to various factors—including how I felt in the morning and the time it took to absorb my medication—I bumped up my wake-up time to 7 a.m. and then 6 a.m. until my body naturally began waking up every morning at 5:30 a.m.
I refuse to scale back anymore. Since my seizure threshold is lowered by lack of sleep, I hit the proverbial hay at 9:30 p.m. to get a full seven to eight hours of sleep a night. That’s right. I’m 40 years old and I keep hours I associate only with the extremely elderly. I haven’t gone to sleep this early since I was seven years old and I never intentionally woke up this early when I had no “real” reason for doing so. No appointments or deadlines or clocks to punch. Just me and the birds and the break of day.
Since my system is free of mood-altering chemicals like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, it syncs with the “man-made” rhythms of the sun and moon, the day and night, the dark and light, with little to no resistance. I’ve come to love the hours I have to myself before the civilized world begins its morning rush—the incomparable peace of the pre-8 a.m. world.
I’ve also begun to love exploring rocky beaches and sprawling parks in the light of day again. The thing about the elderly community is the experiential wisdom undeniably gleaned from inhabiting Earth longer.
So, if I’m up to experience golden hour over a piping cup of tea or ready to settle in with a good book at nightfall decades prematurely, I consider myself fortunate to enter my golden years a bit earlier.
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