It’s 3.38 a.m. and I am awake. I don’t want to be awake. I don’t want to be thinking real thoughts about grubby Real Life. I want to be fast asleep, dreaming cool dreams in Technicolor with jazz on the soundtrack, floating in my PJs over the rooftops of Norwich (that was a good one) or spending a moment with someone I loved who isn’t alive anymore, or finding my novel on a bookshop shelf and remembering that, hey, I finished it months ago and it’s already published and under it there’s one of those little cards that says Our bookseller recommends…
But, no. I am awake. My stomach hurts. I’m far too hot. My mouth tastes metallic from taking a sleeping pill last night. I smell iffy. I quite need a wee, after drinking a cup of hot milk and a glass of cold water. My boy cat is thumping around on the floor catching insects. My room is too stuffy. I’ve got to get up in four hours. I’m going to be tired all day.
It’s like traffic lights. Green when you wake and you’re still optimistic (it’s only a blip; shut your eyes; think of sheep), and then amber when things look a little bit hairier (go on, head, tell me that one again about how inadequate I am as a human being; you know how I love that one), and then finally, angrily, you’re at red. There is swearing. The inadequacy engine is in overdrive. You might as well fling off the covers and fling your hot self out of bed and go flinging off to the microwave in the kitchen to fling some milk in it and now you’ve got to have a wee as well and the microwave has to bleep (of course) while you’re weeing, and what if it wakes your daughter up, and what are you meant to do at 3.38 in the morning, and why did you make such a dick of yourself in that conversation earlier? Why did you have to press send on that message? Why don’t things ever work out the way you want them to? Why don’t people like you back equal amounts that you like them? This is one of the great conundrums of the universe, of course, and even a really good cup of hot milk cannot solve it, neither at 3.38 am nor 338 years from now when, should the world still turn, the great minds – in the middle of the night – will still be pondering this question.
But then, you see. I mean, you see.
The thing you see is this: that you’re awake. Awake. You climb in bed again. You drink your milk. You listen to some music. When you stop the music, there’s an owl outside. Is anybody else awake and listening? Someone’s car comes down the road: that’s odd. It’s 4.26 now. The owl has gone quiet. You try to picture it, in the forest behind your house. You generally keep different hours, you and the owl. Is it sort of a gift, then, that you were up just now in time to hear it? Is this morning a gift, no matter what time it starts? Will the owl return later, in your memory, when you’re writing (fingers crossed) and bring something real and true (the emotion you felt while hearing the owl) to a scene that’s a little too flat?
And the things that went wrong? Well, they were a gift as well. In their way. You were living, alive, awake to experience them.
It’s all over, already, for so many people. So many.
A new bird is making a noise now. A dawn sort of noise. Day will dawn, one morning, without you. You won’t be awake anymore, or again. This is it. Now is it. You have ears, to hear owls. A mouth to drink milk. If you’d died all those years ago, when you tried to, you wouldn’t be hearing that owl in the forest or watching your cat chew the plant on your cupboard or writing this blog post that someone might read when they’re up in the morning at 3.38 by themselves.
You’re awake. This is good. Now your cat’s on the windowsill, watching the birds. These are things you don’t usually see. Have a look out the curtains, a look at the world. You see differently now. Have a look at yourself. You look different as well. Stop regretting. You’re fine as you are. You’ve done fine. You’ll do fine in the future. You weren’t such a dick, after all, in that conversation that seemed such a crashing disaster before you woke up. You were just being you, being genuine, slightly too open. So what? You’re awake. It’s not over. Your turn isn’t over. Keep going. Keep playing. Keep waking up.