I wish there were a word for when you go to bed too early and wake up in the middle of the night because your body thought it was a nap. With a word, it might seem less weird that I went to bed at 8:00 and woke up at 3:00 last night. I should know better than going to bed that early. I do know better. But it’s an easy mistake to make. After coming home from work, walking the dog, and eating dinner, what else is there to do but fall asleep?
It used to drive Nick crazy how early I woke up. He’d be half asleep when I started my day.
“Emma,” he’d say, “What’s a farmer like you doing in this city?” I’m not a farmer; I’m a teacher. He knew that well enough, but it seemed all wrong to him to live in New York and have to be anywhere by 7:00 AM.
I met him over the summer five years ago when we were both 24 and I liked drinking more and minded hangovers less. In the first months with Nick, I had nowhere to go in the morning and I did my best to stay up with him. Nick was a lot of fun, and he’d tell you he still is. He’s certainly a good drinker, the kind who is always chasing the feeling of a cocktail on an empty stomach.
We broke up about 18 months ago. I spent about half that time trying to imagine myself in a new city, with a new job, with a new set of preoccupations. But even as I looked up the demographics of Austin and St. Paul, most of my idle thoughts were about our first summer together, when I slept before we went out so I could stay up late with him. That year he bought me a t-shirt that said “I Love Disco Naps.” I thought I would sleep in that shirt for decades.
That summer, we rode bikes across bridges, went to midnight movies and shared flasks of Irish iced coffee. After those nights, I’d still wake up early even though I had nowhere to be. Sometimes I could fall back asleep, and when Nick woke up for the first time, he’d go out and get egg sandwiches for us. I didn’t even care that my day didn’t start until noon. I was happy to be with Nick.
I’m in Denver now, where people go to bed at a decent hour. I still miss Nick occasionally. He kept me up late enough that I didn’t wake up at 3:00.
This morning after I got up, I took the dog for a walk. I found Pickles soon after I moved to Colorado. She’s a lark, too. On our way to Cheesman Park, I saw a car going west on 13th street. It was probably going to or away from something unpleasant. Or maybe not, but to me, being in a car at 3:00 on a Wednesday morning could only be a bad thing.
The last time I was in a car at that hour, it was a cab and it was to the hospital. Nick had sliced his thumb on a bottle opener at a party after I had left. A woman called from Nick’s phone and woke me up. By the time I got to the ER, I had missed all the blood and there were just stitches. Nick was very woozy, and told that woman, all the nurses, and me that he loved us. I loved him too—when I was asleep, my phone only rang for his number.
Now I don’t even have Nick in my phone and every morning, I hope I’ll see the Irish Setter guy. I didn’t see him today, but he’s a morning person, too. Over the winter, we were the only ones in the park at 5:00, 5:30, walking through the blackness, waiting for the sky to turn navy. Now that it’s spring, there are more runners out with us, trying to prove something before the day starts. I don’t run, but we’re not so different, them and me. They probably know all about leaving parties early for a good night’s sleep. When you’re a morning person, you’re always making decisions about tomorrow.
Pickles and the Irish Setter—Red’s her name—get along. The Irish Setter guy has a beard and glasses; he’s a little bald. Sometimes he drinks coffee in the morning. He is the only one who walks Red. We’ve talked about how old our dogs are and the weather. He’s given Pickles treats for sit and paw. I like to think that if we ran into each other at the grocery store or at a bar, he would say hello.
After our walk, Pickles and I went to bed again and somehow I fell asleep. Now that it’s real morning, even the walk feels like a dream.
In my second sleep, I dreamt about the Irish Setter guy. We were in his apartment with someone from my elementary school whose birthday is around this time of year. I asked the Irish Setter guy if he had ever ridden his bike to the ocean.
You can do that in New York; the ocean is right there. When Nick tried to go to bed with me, I’d whisper, half asleep already, “Dream of riding your bike to the ocean, dream of riding your bike to the ocean.”
We once did ride our bikes to the ocean, Nick and I. It wasn’t hard; it was just the thing we did that day. I do things during the day. We went in late September, and the water felt so good I almost believed that winter wouldn’t happen that year.
There were a lot of black flies on the beach, not the ones that bite, just the ones that annoy. That’s the thing I remember best about that day, swatting at black flies as Nick talked about staying up late and having fun. It’s a hard thing to be accused of, not being fun. There’s no good way to defend yourself.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t think Nick meant to end it at the beach, I just think everything became clear to him as we argued about the relative value of getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. So we packed up our picnic, went home, and started dealing with the logistics of it being over.
When I was with Nick, I used to dream about being in a car with no brakes, floating past stop signs, not knowing what to do. Nothing bad ever happened in those dreams; somehow all the other cars knew to stop for me. I was just out of control.
Now when I dream about cars, it involves some emergency and I have to drive stick, which isn’t something I can do—in dreams or in real life—and I wake up feeling inept. The Irish Setter guy can drive stick. I’ve seen him put Red in his car, it’s a manual, but I can’t say where they’re going.