When I say “morning” I mean an hour or two pre-sunrise — what I’ve heard some people refer to as “the butt-crack of dawn”. My affection for these small, quiet, grey hours may be the last surviving outpost of my Original Narrative — the way I saw the world before I woke up (pun intended). And it’s been under siege for some time now.
As I write this it is 7:23am and I’m lying in bed, and I’ll probably try to get in another half hour of sleep when I’m done writing. My six-year-old self would have had two responses to this:
First, he would be genuinely confused at how someone could physically go back to sleep any time after 6:00am.
Second, he would be disappointed in me, his future self. He’d say I sold out. That they “got to me”.
And he wouldn’t be wrong.
I remember waking up every morning in my secondhand bed with the sturdy, chocolate-brown hardwood headboard to the red glow of the numbers on my digital alarm clock — which was actually just a clock to me, as I never once used the alarm function. I remember the red blending with the diffused blue light of the outskirts of a sunrise two hours out, climbing over the Rocky Mountains and whispering through my second-floor, east-facing window. This could have only been the case for 5 or 6 months of the year, but that’s how I remember it.
The first number on the clock was always a 5 or a 6. If it was a 5, I would wait restlessly in bed, wide awake, until 6; the time my parents had deemed acceptable for me to wake them up.
I wouldn’t actually go and wake them up, but they were/are light sleepers and the first part of my morning routine was literally running down the stairs to the kitchen, jumping up into the far corner of the counter and swinging open the cupboard where we kept the slightly yellowed Kellogg’s cereal bowls with the characters on the bottom.
After pouring myself a bowl of low-to-no-sugar cereal, I would make my way to the living room and sit down cross-legged on the carpet, probably with my back against our beige & sage windowpane pattern couch. #iwillneverunderstandthe90s
And all I can remember doing after that is watching Saved by the Bell and infomercials. And I hate that. So much.
Sometimes my dad would come down and make French-toast or scrambled eggs with potatoes — called a Mountain Man Breakfast; “it’ll put hair on your chest”, he told me — or thin, crispy waffles in that Honeywell waffle-maker that was made of plastic but somehow looked rusted in the corners of all its bevels. Batter would always ooze out the sides, so we’d catch it with our fingers and lick it off. Waffles, pancakes, and French-toast were all bathed in homemade “syrup”: microwaved water & sugar with a cap-full of Mapleine; I didn’t know real syrup came from a tree and I didn’t know about Aunt Jemima’s or any of the other store-bought goop until I was like 9. Oh, and waffles got a thick layer of creamy peanut-butter before the syrup.
Breakfast was magical. Still my favorite cuisine. But I don’t think it’s why I love the morning.
In fact, in writing this I’ve realized that I don’t actually know why I love the morning so much. As I’ve reflected on morning routines throughout my life, I’ve found that most of it is stuff I don’t like to think about.
After my daily doses of commercial and cultural poison (infomercials & Saved by the Bell, respectively), the next thing I remember is running around to friends’ houses, or calling their houses on the phone, as soon as the sun broke over the mountains, only to be told — to my utter bewilderment — that my friends were still asleep. Or that they were awake, but it was too early to play. I think all the parents kinda hated me.
Fast forward into my early teen years and mornings meant scrambling to finish some homework that I had either forgotten I had or told my parents I didn’t have so I could go hang out with my friends, which would likely become material for yet another fight about my future within the next few days.
A little later into my teens it meant unplugging my white Nokia slider phone loaded up with Fall Out Boy songs and emo MySpace selfies (a very specific kind of selfie taken from above — Google it) and sending a “Good morning :)” to the girl of the month and anxiously waiting for her to respond, then either scrambling to finish some homework or getting on the computer to check MySpace and trying to resist the temptation to look at porn. Usually failing, of course. #yearsofunnecessaryselfloathing
I believe it was during my senior year of high school that I first slept in past 7:30am. And even though I knew I hadn’t missed out on anything special during that extra hour of sleep, there was still a little flash of fear that I had. Fear combined with disappointment in myself.
My love of the morning and my ability to wake up early were part of my identity, something that set me apart from others. It felt like “they” had “won”, even though no one had ever for a single second tried to stop me from enjoying the morning or waking up early. So strange and destructive, the imaginary battles we put ourselves in.
These days I usually sleep in as late as I can get away with, simply because adult life has worn me out. And even though it doesn’t make me feel like a sell-out anymore, it still makes me sad.
For some reason I still love those early hours with all of my heart. Even though as I look back over the years at my different morning routines, everything that stands out is pretty negative, I somehow still believe in that quiet, gray light that fills the world at 5am in the summer.
It’s like a little underground spring of fresh water underneath some toxic industrial complex. Trickling quietly along, in spite of everything.
Right now I’m in the thick of it. Life, that is.
I’m stressed and poor and exhausted and there’s a deep pain in the small of my back that I can’t stretch out. I’ve got one beautiful baby boy, zero paychecks coming, and I’m taking ten credits — which is about as difficult for me as 15 would be for a normal person. We got approved for food stamps, but our card got lost in the mail and they won’t let us just come pick one up because our case isn’t “expedited”. And to top it all off I’m in the middle of denouncing the religion I was raised in. So when I wake up early these days, it’s because I have to.
The Department of Workforce Services may not think so, but I’m working hard. And I’ll know it’s paid off when I can get up before sun because I want to and enjoy it.
No longer in spite of anything.