I wrote the essay below for Salon Esse, the incredible writing group I’m lucky to call mine, for our January meeting. We gather once a month to read works in progress, drink too much wine, and provide a safe, positive place to be writers. The piece is borne out of the ridiculous sense of melodrama I am experiencing over being a morning commuter for the first time in years; even though I am loving my new job, I am not adjusting well to getting up before the sun does. Here’s my attempt to poke fun at myself and my flair for despair in the mornings. I hope you like it, too.
You hear the harp strings plucking out their siren song and you float to the top of your dream, with reluctance, as though you are a balloon, and helium is taking you to the big merciless sky, and you are grabbing at the branches on your way up to no avail. This is probably because balloons don’t have hands.
It’s seven AM and you stumble out of bed on deadened feet to swipe at your alarm clock, which is really just a function of your smart phone (smart phone, dumb human) and even though the whole point of leaving your smart phone on the dresser instead of the night table is the fleeting hope that one of these days, you’ll just stay upright, you never do, at least, you haven’t yet. There’s always time to learn. Today is never the day, you think, as your body collapses back into the impossibly warm and delicious bed and at this time of the morning, you would throw your husband and your dog to the wolves if it meant you got to keep your bed. That’s not something you’re proud of.
You have the misfortune to be in possession of an east-facing window. This would be helpful if the sun, the gentle sun, would just fucking rise already, but you also have the misfortune of living in this frozen wasteland called Brooklyn where it’s January and there isn’t a sun at 7am, there will never be another sun, it seems. What is this new fixation of yours, with the sun? You make a mental note to look up the symptoms associated with SAD, an unfortunate acronym for a disease that until a few months ago, you were pretty sure inflicted only the weak, mewling hypochondriacs of the world. Only now that’s you, researching sun lamps and vitamin D. Sad indeed.
So you get up, and you’re gentle with your body while it assesses the damage done on re-entry (aching neck, slight headache from an over-application of wine). You’re trying to not be so obsessed with the morning clock in this new reality where the world is suddenly sixty minutes from start to finish, and your only concern in this world is, will you make it out the door on time? You are the Jack Bauer of mornings. This hasn’t been lost on your heretofore relaxed husband, who used to claim peaceful dominion over all mornings while you slept until eight AM and then went to your easy job, or stayed home all day studying. You have planted a pirate flag in the warm gooey center of his previously relaxed mornings, and now you’re ruining your marriage in tiny increments of “are you done with the bathroom?” and “isn’t it YOUR turn to walk the dog?”, and he bears it stoically and then not so stoically because frankly, you have gone from this beautiful sleeping creature he kissed on the forehead to this shrieking harpy with a ticking clock and an attitude.
In the shower, you listen to NPR, you relentless yuppie you, in an effort to be aware of some other part of the world than yours. You scrub yourself down with tangerine-scented bath gel because the women at the store said it would invigorate your mornings. You smell delicious but you’re not any more awake. You towel dry, and wrap yourself in the soft tee-shirt robe that you bought specifically for these mornings, and this is the nicest part of your sixty minutes; this robe, wrapped around a now compliant and fragrant body, a body that – hey! – is awake! This period of calm lasts through the hair-drying, and the face-moisturizing, and the tooth-brushing. Something about the steamy warmth, the hum of the blow-dryer, the lingering smell of tangerine: maybe you can do this after all.
Every day, the same routine of disbelief followed by begrudging acceptance followed by tangerine body wash and the wisdom that comes with understanding. You are the amnesiac from the movies, whose whole world is reconstructed every day with the alarm clock. You dress in clothes that you hope you won’t hate by the end of the day, although you always do hate them, because they’re black and a little formal and winter requires so many layers, so much thought, why don’t you live in Northern California again? And usually around this time, you think about your dad, and how for forty years he woke up around 4am so that he could have an hour of personal space in the world where he could read a book and drink his coffee in peace, before suiting up – and every day, he suited up – and going to the office for a twelve-hour work day. If you don’t think about him during this part of the morning, it’s during the part of your day when you’re jammed up against the crush of humanity on your subway train, breathing in someone else’s bad mood, someone else’s coffee breath, someone else’s body wash, and you think of your dad commuting from the Upper West Side down to Rockefeller Center in the seventies, which he called “the bad old days”, and you wonder if his trains were this crowded.
But you’re not there yet, the sardine can of fellow commuters; you’re still at home and somehow, it’s 8:04 and you haven’t left yet. So now you’re full of self-loathing and coffee, and by the time you wrap the scarf around your neck, jam the hat on your head, fumble with the gloves, zip up the damn coat with the ripped zipper that you swore you would replace this winter – only who has the time to go shopping anymore? – you are not only filled with self-loathing and coffee, you’re also hot. If you’re lucky, this isn’t the moment you remember that you forgot to brush your teeth.
Out on the street, you have to reapply all the winter accessories that you stripped during the grumpy walk down the stairs, because of course you forgot to brush your teeth. You are not yet the valedictorian of mornings. You walk, and if you’re really at the bottom of your karma cookie jar, the weather gods have thoughtfully layered the ground with yet more snow, fluffy new snow covering old disgusting snow, which makes you walk like an ostrich, carefully plucking your feet and putting them down while trying to walk quickly because you left the house four minutes late. Pro tip: If you try to put your headphones on now, buddy, you’ll probably fall on your face.