Woke up at 3:15AM and didn't go back to sleep until well past 6. This isn't an isolated incident. It's been happening with some frequency for a few weeks now. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've read all the "helpful" articles about menopause and all the great, constructive things you can do with the symptoms (write poetry! take a moonlit walk around your garden! clean out your linen closet! learn to crochet!) but I do what I suspect most ex-single-moms-newly-on-their-own do.
I go into the living room where the big Buddha head sits calmly on the coffee table, inviting me to sit in the feeble golden glow from the small lamp that I keep dimly lit during the night. I spend a few minutes meditating on Buddha's gentle spirit before the committee in my head begin their first morning meeting. They file in, bedraggled, still in their nightclothes, looking annoyed that they've been called in early, but when I suggest they go back to wherever they just came from, they become even more surly, slamming down the coffee cups that they'll later be throwing at each other while fighting out whether I should spend $1000 on a Herman Miller chair ("Her back is TRASHED with that wooden thing she sits on now - it's an implement of torture! - mark my words: she's gonna wind up having to spend a small fortune at the chiropractor's down the road!" "I'LL tell you what's TRASHED! Her BANK ACCOUNT! You think money just grows on... oh, what's the use? You're just going to go and get her in so much trouble that she's going to have to sell her house and claim bankruptcy! Before the year is out, she'll be pushing a shopping cart with all her worldly possessions. But she'll have a STATE OF THE ART desk chair, right? SHEEESH!!") I shake my head, if only to shut them up for a few minutes, and head for the kitchen.
"Oh, my goodness, somebody's bowl is empty!" That is the rallying cry that my remaining child, Biggie, recognizes from whatever corner of the house he happens to be. He comes running. Of course, with a name like that, you can imagine that he is someone who could stand to have his bowl be empty once in a while. But the sound of kibble hitting porcelain is as comforting to me as it is to him. I am creating a child with a weight problem. What kind of horrible parent am I? Uh oh, I hear the committee. They've followed me into the kitchen. I fill the tea kettle, drop a bag of "Sleepy Time EXTRA" into a mug, and sit down at my kitchen desk. To blog or not to blog. I decide against it, and instead play "Who's on IM at 4AM?" Of course, I don't actually IM anyone who's on, but it's surprising the number of people who appear to be up. Ah, the beauty of technology. It can make one appear all diligent and bright-eyed even if one has passed out behind 4 Seconals and a half a bottle of Nyquil.
Biggie has finished his kibble nibble and is looking at me rather expectantly, licking his chops. When I don't leap up to entertain him, he actually rolls his eyes in disgust and then turns his attention to giving himself a bit of a bath. The kettle is boiling.
The tea smells comforting, but I know if I drink it all, I'll have to pee at least 3 times before I can actually go back to sleep. God, having had the same body for half a century, there are very few surprises. Except the ones you see in the mirror. What a shock those are.
I take my tea and go and sit in a different spot in the living room, hoping the committee doesn't hear me come in. I'll sit here and meditate on how beautiful and gracious my life is. Look at the gentle glow emanating from all the planes of the Buddha's serene face. I become still, as still as the night in its quietude. How silent it is. Not a sound, just dark air and the occasional car going by, but far from here, no cars on my street.
A few blocks away, there are three radio towers with red lights at their tops. I remember when I was a child and my parents would take me to visit my great Aunt Ida and Uncle Fred. Uncle Fred invented the baby incubator. Among other things. They were always very flamboyant - either they were in the money or out of it, but they had never had children of their own; something they'd sorely wanted. Still, they loved each other madly nonetheless.
Anyway, they took every opportunity to have our family up there to visit - we'd all go out to dinner at The Sunken Gardens, where they were regulars (Aunt Ida had never cooked anything other than toast, and that had been problematic), and then we'd all go back to their house together where we'd be subjected to Lawrence Welk for what felt like Eternity. One night, I'd fallen asleep on Aunt Ida's bed after looking through her jewelry box, a favorite visiting activity, and when it was time to go, my dad carried me, a slumbering babe, out to the car. But he'd had one of his Camels clamped in his teeth or in his hand, I don't really know which, all I know is the cigarette burned the back of my hand so badly that I can still see the scar of it today. I was wild with the pain; no one seemed to know what to do. Not my father, who felt terrible, not my mother, who was furious with my father. It was Aunt Ida who got a cold wash cloth to wrap around my poor little paw, but more importantly, she directed my attention to the radio towers that were practically in their back yard. She pointed to the red lights and told me they were angels watching over me, that when they blinked, it was the angels blinking. She told me that the angels would take away my pain. And it worked. After all, Aunt Ida wouldn't lie to me. I hadn't thought of that story until I moved into this house five years ago and one night I looked out my big front window and there they were. The angels.
I sipped my tea, and thought about Aunt Ida and Uncle Fred, and Dad, all gone now. I walked lightly through the house; here was a picture of my dad, taken five days before he died, at my second wedding. I had to smile: there in his right hand was the ever-present Camel. Here was a picture of my mother as a little girl, she looked angry even then. I give it a kiss. Please don't be so mad, Mom. Here's one of my sister and me, and here's one of my daughter and my niece. We're all here together in this quiet, darkened house, still with night and memory.
And I realize, when you're being rescued, you don't always know it. You think you're being inconvenienced. You think why did this crazy homeless person zero in on ME, or isn't there some way to get out of doing service at the Salvation Army, or why do I have to be the grownup all the time, and why why WHY can't I just sleep straight through the night?
Maybe it's because the red lights are out there all the time. But mostly we just run til our wheels come off, with no thought of what looks out for us. But sometimes it's important to be reminded they're there. And for that, you really do need to be awake.