I hate getting out of bed, especially to the alarm. If I can’t trust my own erratic rhythms to tell me when to stop sleeping, then I feel I don’t own my life.
But now that I’m on a flexible schedule, and I do sleep in most days, it’s scary. I sleep until 10, 11, 11:30. Then, instead of getting out of bed, I reach for a book on the night table.
I feel guilty for sleeping so late, but it’s guilt that made me sleep so late. I may have opened my eyes at 8 or 9, but then pulled the covers over my head, afraid to face the day, though I can’t recall what it is I did wrong.
I don’t do mornings. Not the way most people do — the ones eager to get out of bed to face the day, to meet the next challenge and rack up the next “win.”
I stay in bed as long as I can, on some occasions until noon. Since becoming self-employed, I never make a commitment to do anything “productive” before 10. I drift between the mythical and the mundane, where the psyche lives, and recharge my batteries. I wonder how so many jump this divide with such apparent ease. Where do they refuel? At the well of power and prestige?
Coming back to dailiness every morning is like putting on high heels to go to the office — useful, perhaps, but so confining. Why not savor the in-betweenness of the dawn state as long as possible? As often as possible?
Mountain View, California
The darkness eats into your dreams like a hungry lion. You stumble out of bed to find Mommy and Daddy. The center of their bed is the warmest, safest place in the world.
But their door is locked.
“It’s only a dream,” your mother calls, her voice a warning. “Go back to bed.”
They have so many rules, more than your friends’ parents. Bedtime is a thick stick. All you want to do is read in bed, wiggle into another life under your covers. But they patrol the halls like you are a smuggler. After their door is closed, you sneak out of bed, into the bathroom. A stomachache, you’ll say, if they wake. You sit on the toilet, a yellow blanket wrapped around you, and read.
After you and Jason make love, you get out of bed and go to the bathroom. You stand on the rim of the tub and look at yourself in the mirror. Are you beautiful? Will he love you always? Does he love you now?
How can he sleep when you’re so far from the bed?
Your daughter’s cries tie your sleep with a tangled thread. You can walk with your eyes closed down the dark hallway to her room. She saw a monster. She lost her blanket. She’s thirsty. She tugs at your dreams. She pulls you out of bed with more force than any lover.
Your own cry wakes you at 2 every morning. You get out of bed and retreat to the living room. This is your only time to be alone, to breathe the house without demands. You read, savoring each word. You write, remembering the soft parts of your soul. Your family sleeps upstairs.
It’s midnight and your daughter’s curfew is 12:30. At each sound you get out of bed, rush to the top of the stairs to listen for her key. Has she been in a wreck? Has her boyfriend abducted her? Has she run away? What will you do if she’s three hours late? Your sleep is restless horses. You wander the hallway until you hear her laugh, the jangle of her bracelets, the murmur of the boyfriend. Then you hurry under the covers.
The house is quiet now, the night a languid cat. Your daughters sleep in different cities. Your husband dreams peacefully. You can follow his dreams. Or you can wander the house. The living room sofa, the top of the stairs, your daughters’ room.
A longtime friend comes to my new home. He frowns at the sight of my single bed. He thinks it’s time I make a gesture to the future and get a bed big enough for two.
But I like my bed.
Here is what’s good about waking up alone — all the noise comes from outside. Here, wrapped in my bedclothes, dreams linger and the images deepen. Near-memories surface, linking me to the day before.
Sometimes yesterday’s events are so big I feel them in my body as they emerge. My heart swells when I recall hiking the loop trail all by myself, or going to a Japanese bath with a friend and being fearlessly and joyously naked in front of others. More often, the memories are of flowers waiting in the next room, the characters in the book I’m reading, the gossip I heard at work.
If I’m not careful, my thoughts weave old, obsessive patterns. Inner arguments, scores of failed dreams and regrets, rise from the pillow like small devils. Those mornings I wake snarled and cross, or defeated, already tired.
The good mornings I simply lie there, close my eyes, opening them for longer and longer intervals. I look at familiar objects, soft blurs of color and pattern against the white walls. Then I put on my glasses and look again.
Two favorite objects draw me. One is the mask of a primitive, unformed face, cast in sand. Its torn, uneven eyes and slit mouth betray an ocean of sorrow. Once alien and disturbing, its childlike face now reminds me of my own.
The other is a mobile of goldfish weaved from pastel ribbons. The fish turn slowly in the still room. But when I throw back the covers to get out of bed, they dive and spin in the moving air, their sequined eyes flashing as they catch the morning light.
Half Moon Bay, California
It seems these days I can’t get out of bed at all. I wake up exhausted from my nightmares, and I just can’t open my eyes.
Karen gets out of bed, complaining about being tired, but she has a job she likes to go to. I turn over and close my eyes, but then the nightmares come back, worse than before. So I wake myself up again and stare at the ceiling. Why get up?
Then something changes. I don’t know what and I don’t know how. Suddenly I am wide awake. I stretch my arms and legs, pull my knees to my chest to stretch my lower back, and roll out of bed. I massage my face for five minutes, then I drink two tall glasses of warm water. I spend the next few minutes resting on the toilet seat that Karen has warmed. Next I stretch my whole body for half an hour. I finally wash myself, brush my teeth, and get dressed. Meditation for half an hour, then breakfast. Now the day can start.
Maybe I have a hard time getting out of bed because I have so many chores to do before my day begins. Maybe I am so tired because I believe that life itself is a chore.
I’m back lying in bed after a half-hearted attempt at getting up. Why bother? I stare straight up. But there are no celestial bodies, just stalactites of peeling paint.
A cold cinder block wall the color of weak coffee is hard against my right arm. Parallel to it and just six feet away is its cold, hard mate. Pulling myself to my elbows I see the third wall just twelve inches from the foot of my bed. I could get up and wash. The sink and toilet are there by the foot of my rack. How convenient.
Now I sit up. I’m making progress. My pillow is propped against the fourth wall. I twist to my left; inches from my face are the bars, painted black and welded to flat, horizontal pieces of steel. This is a six-by-eight, a cell. This is my hell.
My left index finger insists on attention. Arthritis? Now it’s my wrist and left arm. A heart attack? My right shoulder. A stroke?
Slowly my mind unravels and I stop listening to the complaints of my seventy-five-year-old body. The sun is shining. I can feel it, though I haven’t opened my eyes. I picture myself as a newborn kitten, all wrinkles.
I sit up and wait. My mother could never wait. She lived with us when she was the age I am now. She would jump out of bed, whirl around, and fall — sometimes back into bed, sometimes on the floor. This falling made her angry, but she would not slow down. She was afraid she would rust. She finally did, as we all must, and died at the age of 101.
I will not be like my mother. I will get up slowly, walk slowly; I will open my eyes when I get good and ready.
Shuffling into the bathroom, I feel around for the washcloth, find it, and douse my face with cold water. I open first one eye, and then the other.
My black exercise tights are the first thing I see. They remind me it is Monday. Three days a week I squeeze into them, walk a mile uphill to class, jiggle, jump, and bounce to calypso music, then crawl back down the hill. To rest? Of course not! I have a zillion things to do.
I look at the time. Only 6 o’clock? Two hours before I have to leave. I could slip back into that nice warm bed, or I could exercise, paint, write, cook, and sew. But I will do them slowly; I am not my mother.
I greet the day from my pillows. Blinds already open, I can see the sky, usually blue; this is Wyoming. I sit up to check the mountaintops; before approaching the window to count the elk on the sage-flats across the road, and the trumpeter swans floating in long-necked beauty on Flat Creek, I let myself remember my dreams.
Next, I gather my breakfast: fresh-squeezed orange juice, cappuccino, and toast. I return to the warm spot beneath my duvet to eat and read and daydream before my shower.
This morning my new puppy wakes me at 5:20. The sky is dark. I hate this. The puppy lunges at the bed in ecstatic reunion at seeing my face after a short separation. I remember my new goal in life is to keep this animal from wetting my carpets, and I leap from bed. She attacks my bare legs in a shagged frenzy. My head feels fizzy. She and I trip over each other on the way to the closet.
I have to move fast. A spreading puddle can appear between her legs without warning. I grab my pants, and while I hop on one foot trying to find the left pant leg, Taggart has the right between her teeth. I can’t find my boots. She runs off with my knee sock. I want to go to the bathroom, wash my face, brush my hair, but I don’t dare. Gathering speed — I’m sure she can’t wait any longer — I propel myself down the stairs, Taggart hanging on to a shoelace. I find my down vest and race for the door.
It’s spooky outside. The sun isn’t rising over Sleeping Indian yet, though the world is graying its way toward day. Taggart is arcing through tall, sweet clover like a bouncing ball — her whole body, then nothing. We head up the path to an overlook, and Tag crashes through the meadow of wildflowers — lupine, Indian paintbrush, balsam root. She stops to peek back at me, a forget-me-not petal on her nose.
Suddenly I am in tears. I don’t know what this is. I sob, my chest heaving, a smile on my face. We are halfway up Saddle Butte, and the whole valley lies before us. Mist curls up from Flat Creek. Two mule deer separate from the sagebrush on the butte and Tag and I turn to watch.
I got a new puppy. I get to be out here every day at 5:30.
I’m sleeping as sound as a turtle in its shell, unable even to dream — that would take too much energy — when my baby’s wail shocks me awake.
I cross the room and pick him up. Daniel is red in the face and looking angry. His mouth is pulled down into a pout. How dare I take so long?
I pull him close. He’s soaking wet. Even through two diapers and rubber pants, he’s wet. Now I am, too.
I change him quickly. Too quickly; I stab my finger with the pin. Daniel is yelling that new-baby yell. I step out of my wet nightgown and climb back into bed.
Soon Daniel is sucking ferociously on my sore nipples. At least he’s quiet. Finally he drifts off. I’m just about to fall back to sleep, perhaps to dream this time, when my husband wakes. “Aren’t you going to put him back in the bassinet?” he says. “You don’t want to roll over on him.”
“I’m sure I won’t,” I reply groggily.
“I’m not,” he answers.
I pick Daniel up and carefully put him in the bassinet. He wakes up screaming. I pat him on the back and sing to him. The cries continue. My husband sleeps soundly. I’m cold and throw on a clean nightgown. I pick him up and cuddle him and rock him in my arms. The cries continue. I rock him for twenty minutes. When he’s fast asleep, I put him in the bassinet and tiptoe back to bed.
Sleep will not come. I keep looking at the red digital numbers on the bedside clock. Finally, at around 5 a.m., I drift off.
At 6:45 Daniel starts crying. I lie there. My husband asks, “Are you having trouble getting out of bed?”
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The geometry was perfect in the long row of army bunks that were finally still in the pre-dawn darkness. Then I’d hear Gilpin’s Zippo clank open and the flint wheel spit at the wick. The flame flickered through my closed eyelids, then clicked out. The choking aroma soon reached my throat. I’d pull at the musty wool blanket; it was always coarse against my cheek. In moments the naked bulbs of the barracks lights would come on and make us all squint and curse.
It’s 4 a.m. A silent voice wakes me. If it’s winter and the house has grown frigid, I put the day’s clothing — two sweat shirts (one with a hood), sweat pants, heavy socks, fur slippers — into bed with me for a few minutes to warm them up. I put them on quickly, stoke the waning fire in the wood stove, and head for the kitchen and the world’s largest coffee cup. If it’s summer, I skip all the steps between the opening of my eyes and the steaming cup of coffee; I simply pull on the shorts and T-shirt I dumped on the floor the night before, grab my notebook and whatever books I might be reading at the time, make a quick cup of coffee, and head for my faithful green sofa in the living room.
Unlike the houses my parents and their friends like to call home, our house has a living room that is truly lived in: no plastic on the furniture or roped-off doorways to keep children out. During the day, my sons’ toy trucks and blocks are strewn from one end of the room to the other. At night, after we put the children to bed, my husband and I read, and talk about our separate days, and fall asleep on our sofas, he on the brown one and I on the green, at an hour I would have laughed at ten years ago. Somehow we always make it to our bedroom, and sleep, and then at 4 a.m. the voice beckons once again.
I love getting out of bed. I’ve always been a morning person, even as a child, and now I use those two glorious, silent hours, my hours, between 4 and 6 a.m., to do the writing I need to do to keep sane. When my children were babies I nearly went nuts, not so much from the interrupted sleep that tortures other mothers, but from the intrusion into my creative time. Now my boys give me brief mornings to write, read poetry, or to stare at the blank page of my notebook and hope that something will happen.
Karen S. Bard
Pomfret Center, Connecticut