Thoughts in the night

TWO DECADES AGO when my mother was about 80, I asked her what entered her mind at night during those moments when she was awake, those intervals we all have.

I was curious about what old people with lots of history thought in the dark night.

New ImageIf we’re worrying about something before going to bed, that’s what we’ll be focusing on, of course, but at times we awake when there’s nothing worrisome in our lives. Usually, we slip back into our dreams easily, but not always.

I forgot what my mother told me, but I recall it was nothing notable. I thought she’d be remembering the Great Depression or the time she eloped at midday with my father in Athens, but she didn’t mention anything like that. I would have remembered.

Well, now that I’m pretty old myself, I know what old people think, at least what I think. I have a few set skits for those moments. I think, for instance, of a photo of me standing on Cesery Boulevard in Arlington, Florida, posing with a baseball bat as if someone were pitching a hardball at me. I was about 9. I have lost that photo.

But it lives in my mind.

I sometimes think of my very small bedroom in that Cesery Boulevard home, the twin bed, and getting up mornings, stepping across the narrow hallway, and opening the folding canvas door into the kitchen where my mother would be smoking a cigarette. Maybe she’d just downed a Miltown to get her through another day.

What I have thought of more frequently than anything the past 25 years is the moment my last wife told me she was leaving. I was standing in her office door in our Houston home one evening, and she was sitting on the floor going through files.

She mentioned fairly casually that she had found an apartment in Montrose and was moving out. She was shockingly nonchalant. She didn’t even look at me.

Since we had never discussed the possibility of divorce, this was like a meteor. I remember the moment in detail a quarter of a century later. And here is the strange part. Conjuring up that memory during an insomniac spell almost instantly returns me to sleep.

You would think it would be precisely the opposite.

But I’ve just recently noticed that I’m not using that memory anymore as a substitute sleeping pill. The 25-year-old habit has died. I do still think of the kid with the baseball bat, and mornings walking from my small bedroom into the little kitchen and seeing my mother, but not the moment my wife announced she’d had her fill of me.

A single Tylenol will also send me to dreamland, but where’s the drama in that?

6 thoughts on “Thoughts in the night

  1. I have always had problems with insomnia. In 1966, I returned from South Viet Nam and took up residence in my parents’ house. There were three bedrooms on the east side of the house that my father referred to as “the east apartments.” The bedrooms all had large three-by-four-foot windows that had French windows in them that my father had salvaged from another old house. They stayed open all summer so as to give us a cooler sleeping environment. We only had one evaporative cooler, and it was in the west half of the house.

    One night between two and three in the morning, I heard a voice outside my window. Someone had encountered the magueys that my mother had planted there. “What are you doing out there?” I asked. Whereupon the voice made a rude comment. I said, “I didn’t use profanity on you, so you shouldn’t speak to me in that manner.” He apologized. Then, without thinking, I said, “Did you see tonight’s Ed Sullivan show?” He said he did, and we talked about the show. I could tell by his voice that he wasn’t Mexican or black. He was an Anglo. We talked about television, baseball, the Beatles and God only knows what else.

    So it seemed as if he was always there every night sometime between 2 and 3. We talked for a half hour to an hour every night. Just what he thought he was going to see at our house was beyond me. Nobody lived there but my elderly parents and I. It was him talking into the darkness and me talking back.
    This went on for the rest of the summer. I would wake up and say “Are you out there?” and he would reply “Yes.” But one night there was no answer. And he never came back that I could tell.

    About mid October, we closed the windows until next summer. I never found out who he was or where he went.

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