On Four O’Clock in the Morning and Then and Now
When I woke this morning, I heard my neighbor cigarette coughing as she came up the stairs. I was still sleepy-eyed, throwing my hair up, putting on the sweater I call my grown up shell and sitting down to write. It was four o’clock in the morning.
I love this time of day. When the world is quiet, we make peace. I make peace with myself. There is no noise, I smile and think about the things I Love in my life. I remember things I spent so much time trying to forget. I don’t need to forget anymore, that is one of the things I Love about my life.
Four o’clock in the morning used to be the time I would lie down. Sometimes walking, stumbling to get there – sometimes crawling from my desk, or the bathroom. The space around my desk would be littered with bottles, my keyboard covered in ashes. The screen blank or filled by words that would make little sense in the morning, files so obscurely named I wouldn’t find them until years later. Sometimes I look at them now. Now I can see that I knew it was the end; that I was going to die or I was going to walk away from the only thing that was keeping me alive.
If we were together, my boyfriend would get out of bed at 4:15 and I would pretend I was sleeping, hope he wouldn’t notice my newly fresh breath* when he kissed me good morning or turn on the porch light and see the bottles I had hidden in the corner while I was drinking in the kitchen as he slept. If we were apart, I would pretend I was sleeping when he called to tell me he Loved me. I would hope he mistook my slurred speech for half-sleep. Sometimes I would get up and walk into the bathroom while we talked. Once I would walk into the kitchen to get what I told him was a glass of water, pass out on the kitchen floor and wake hours later to frantic messages making sure I was okay. I would hide the bottles even though no one was coming over. I needed to hide them from myself. Every empty bottle was filled with my history, overflowed with shame, filling my apartment with the sort of desperation that made me feel like I was drowning.
I wanted him to save me. Some mornings he would call and I would tell him I had been dreaming. I would tell him I dreamt we ran away to a place that was beautiful where I could write and he could do the things he loved best. He would think they were the sort of dreams that happened while I was sleeping, they were daydreams that came in the night. Sometimes I would look around my apartment and think about the things I would take with us, usually deciding I didn’t need anything.
He would ask me why I always wanted to run away; why away was always the idea. Why it was never to. He didn’t understand why I wanted to escape and could only think about the future in a way that meant at least it wouldn’t be today anymore, in a way that meant at least I’d be farther from yesterday. He didn’t drink.
I didn’t really date men who drank. Even then, there was something about the spirit of a clear, creative, brilliant man that I Loved. I don’t know why they Loved me. I think, sometimes, they would fall in Love with the girl who floated around the apartment in her pyjamas, talking about the things that bounced around in her head all day and laughing. I think sometimes they would fall in Love with me when they would walk into the studio in the middle of the night and find me painting. I think, sometimes, they wanted to keep me safe from myself; that they wanted to save me as much as I wanted them to, thinking that if they Loved me enough I would too and I wouldn’t want to run away, or that maybe I would at least stop talking about death all the time. A drowning man will pull you down with him and you will both die. I would drain them of the spirit I Loved, trying to fill myself, searching for the peace I couldn’t find in a bottle. I would push them away and they would leave and I would be right. I would break their hearts trying to mend my own.
Once, I watched a man I Loved cry when I drowned his heart with my drinking. It was the first time I ever saw that part. That was when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. That was the day before I came back to Los Angeles. It was two days before I had my last drink. In the beginning, sometimes the only thing that kept me sober was the memory of a drowning man and the knowledge that if I drowned another heart in my drinking, I would be next.
That’s sort of how I ended up here, awake at the time I used to pretend I was sleeping.
*I still brush my teeth in the middle of the night.
The man I watched drown sends me emails from time to time, asking how I’m doing, wanting to read the things I’m writing. He tells me sometimes it makes him cry, how happy he is that I’ve become what he saw in me when we fell in Love.