The Long Night
I’ve been awake all night long.
The Sun is beginning to peak from over the horizon; the sky is changing colors from cobalt blue to steel grey. If I look hard enough through the city lights I can see streaks of pink beginning to highlight the sky. I made it through another night. Nighttime is not the most anticipated time of the day for me. Every since I can remember, I’ve been filled with anxiety and nervousness when the sky turns black and everyone else goes to sleep. When I was in high school, my psychology teacher told us the story of the man who had been injured in an accident and never, ever went to sleep. I didn’t want to be involved in that kind of serious accident, but I kind of envied his ability to stay awake all the time. Unlike him, my body still requires sleep, but I have trained it to need very little. Usually around three in the morning, I’ll finally shut everything off, stop being so busy, and allow my eyes to drift shut. I’ll doze for an hour, sometimes two, and then I’ll wake up again. I’ll lay in the dark and lecture myself about how I need sleep, about how busy the day is going to be and that I want to be at my best for the girls. The lecture will prevent me from getting up, and I’ll close my eyes again. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I’ll doze back off for another hour, sometimes even an hour and a half. Sometimes I can’t do even that, and I’ll just lay in silence, surrounded by the darkened bedroom, and wait for sunlight to give me an excuse to get up. I pull “all-nighters” more than I’d like to admit. I’ve had doctors prescribe me medicine, sleeping pills, and I always stare at them as though they are a bee (which, if you know me, is just a smaller word for TERROR). I never take them, no matter how much I’m hurting physically, no matter how much I tell myself I need to sleep. A time or two, I’ve been forced to take them while recovering overnight in the hospital from a surgery and, even with sleeping pills, I fought it so hard I still only got about five hours total. I’ve learned tricks to helping me get through the night. Tricks like leaving the bathroom light on or taking a bath when I start to get tired because the water wakes me up (sometimes I’ll take 3 showers/baths a day, just to renew my energy). Tricks like drinking a Coke. Tricks like making schedules out for the next day that plan every, single hour of the day (they used to plan every half hour when the girls were smaller and their attention spans not quite as developed). When I’m really sleepy, and know it’s unavoidable, I tell myself stories. I’ve been doing that for decades. Only, the stories I tell myself now aren’t about Cinderella or Rapunzel. The stories I tell myself now have different princesses in them. In one of them, Breathe has finally been asked out on her first real date and I’m doing her hair, and helping her pick out something to wear. The boy gets there and I smile at them, tell them to have fun, and off they go. I wait on the couch, knowing there will be no sleep, and also knowing how sweet it is, this, her first date, the event she’s waited on for years. In another nighttime story, I’m taking my jet-setter Alight to Paris, and we are laughing about how she doesn’t know what the Parisians are saying. She’s staring in awe at the Eiffel Tower and I’m telling her the story of when I got weaseled out of money trying to get to the tippy top of that monument. The artists are everywhere, and we stop to let one of them draw her picture. Alight loves architecture, so then I take her to the castles in southern France and watch as she twirls around and around the grounds. If I really get involved in the stories, if I think about every, little detail, then eventually, I fall to sleep. And then, every once in awhile, when I’m really, really hurting, hurting too much to be light-hearted, Landon and Ash take turns showing up in my head. Landon’s usually there first, because he’s been a staple in my head for decades. But when I see Ash… when I see Ash, I feel safe enough to let my eyes close.
No matter how many hours I end up sleeping, I am always grateful for the rising Sun.
The dark hides all sorts of monsters, big and small, real and imaginary. Creaking floors convince me thieves are breaking into my house so I’ll take the hammer I keep under my bed and search the house, knowing all along that there isn’t anyone inside, that’s it’s just an excuse for me to get up. The very thought of fire is enough to send me into the kitchen and the laundry room, to check, double and triple check everything is turned off. And then there’s closets. No child has never been as scared of closed closets as I am today. I know they are empty, but I still have to have enough light in my room that I can see them.
The dark is not my friend.
For the last several days, there has been a perpetual darkness casting shadows over the Sun, making it feel very dark, even in the middle of the afternoon. I’m a perfectionist, so I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of about a million and ten different decisions that have to be made right now. Tears have sprung to my eyes for absolutely no reason. I was afraid of going to church because I was afraid of someone hugging me and then having to watch me fall apart. Fear has been a companion of mine for…. well… ever. I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like and, at different points in my life, I’ve even sort of accepted it as my sidekick. Whenever anything good happens to me…. anything really, really good…. I don’t feel it as deeply as I should because it’s like it’s got multiple layers of bubble wrap around it and I know, all to well, that the smallest thing can burst the bubble. It only takes one test, it only takes one word from someone you care about, to make the dark come back. Hence, happiness has always felt fragile, so fragile that I can’t just unabashedly jump in and twirl around and enjoy it. Instead, I just watch it with wide eyes, savoring it. Happiness is kind of like chocolate: it’s delicious but it melts.
I’m reminding myself right now that darkness is timed, too. The moon is only out for 12 hours at a time. The sky doesn’t stay black; soon, the pink streaks will include hints of orange and yellow. In another few hours, the girls will be up and the entire world will be washed in light. The bad thing, the current nightmare, will still be there, in the back of my mind, and it might even make me cry at odd times, for odd reasons. I still have to make decisions, even though I can’t guarantee which are the best ones to make. And I still have to fight feeling isolated and alone, regardless of whether it is light or dark outside. But here’s the thing. While I can’t do anything about night falling, I can do a lot about how I choose to interact with it. While I’m sometimes going to wake up at night screaming inside, I can also remember that the rainbow comes after every flood. Instead of hiding behind locked doors in fear, the girls and I are going to learn at the park and, weather permitting, the zoo. Instead of running from people who are waiting to show me I do not have to be alone, we’re making cupcakes on Wednesday and looking forward to running to God and the people inside His church. Instead of being bitter, we’re going to celebrate a little girl’s birthday with laughter, chocolate, dance and friends. Instead of thinking about how daunting a diagnosis, or how terrifying a treatment, today I am buying balloons and we are going to release them on the day my treatment starts. Instead of being afraid, I’m going to remember how there was once a little girl with my name and she got through eleven years of hell without going completely insane; I’m older than she was and I know how to combat Fear. When brushing my hair makes me have to lock myself in the bathroom in order to get a grip on my tears, as it did yesterday morning, I’m going to remember that the butterfly’s beauty resides in its transformation; change is about growth, not staying the same forever. And when I am tired, when I’ve had all I can take, I’m going to hug two little girls and soak in their sweetness and purity to remind myself that nothing, absolutely nothing, can take away the love between a mother and her daughters. When I am haunted by doubt, I will hold tight to Scriptures that speak directly to me. When I am threatened by the dark, I will move to the light, for that’s what strength is: moving even when you’re not sure you can anymore.
I’d rather not sleep.
I’d rather not face this beast, either.
Sometimes, there’s a crack in the strength.
But, no matter what else may happen, this I know for sure: the night will pass and the morning will bring peace, comfort and hope.