5 A.M. STORIES
You ready for some stories? Because it’s 5 a.m., and I’m awake, and I need to tell some stories.
I don’t know about you, but I lived for Sunday morning cartoons when I was 6. I’d wake up at 5 a.m., run downstairs to the living room, fly onto the couch, grab the remote control and skim my fingers across the buttons that would get me to those delightful television shows.
And, you know how at 5 a.m., it’s still dark outside? The crickets are chirping, the moon is still be out and the air is still misty? Man, I loved that. Thing is, 5 a.m. wasn’t a time — it was a place. It was the place of uninterrupted Sunday morning cartoons, where I could dance in the middle of my living room to the “Ducktales” opening if I wanted to. You did that, too, right?
Thanks for meeting me here, at 5 a.m. I’ve felt very isolated being up so early. I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. every day this week because I’ve been sick. My internal clock is messed up. But I don’t want to watch TV. I don’t have work to get done. I am stuck in my bed and I have to do what I’m supposed to do: sleep. But that’s not happening.
Anyway, there was also a time in my life when I’d go to sleep past 5 a.m. regularly. I was working at my college newspaper, and many days I’d start walking home around 5 a.m. as the sun tried to peek its head over the East River. My feet would be burning up as we walked past the breakfast carts that were setting up for the morning. It was so quiet out that I felt like I was walking behind the stage of the grand production that would be New York City in about two hours. But, you know, I felt so overwhelmed at 5 a.m. back then. Because I knew I still had work to get done, yet there were so many signs that I had no time for it.
You know what I’m realizing? My 5 a.m. memories are distinct, and I remember most all of them.
I remember when our family still lived in Kansas, I’d always book an early flight back to New York. So I’d wake up a shade before 5 to get to the airport. That car ride, with my mom, was always bittersweet. I knew I’d miss parts of home, like the way the first step of our staircase squeaked, but I knew I wanted to continue my life in New York. Those plane rides back, in between two worlds, were immensely lonely, except that time the psychic sat next to me.
I also remember my freshman year at NYU, I thought I’d be smart to take 8 a.m. classes every day. On test days, I’d wake up at 5 to go over my notes just one last time. I remember my very first test — it was for “Exploration of Light and Color.” I memorized every mark on my study guide — even the eraser stains and the accidental wrinkles. The day of the test, I woke up at 5 because I was so excited and nervous. Then I took the test — bombed it. Because there was nothing on the test about those eraser stains and wrinkles.
But the 5 a.m. I really hated the most was the one time I was truly depressed. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard I tried. And I remember one specific night, I rolled around in bed until I told myself, “I need help.” So I got dressed and started to head out the door when I realized it was 5 a.m. I sat in my doorway until the world got going and, in the meantime, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until noon. When I woke up, I realized I forgot to put on underwear.
I think, though, I haven’t gotten up real early because of excitement since I was little. One day in sixth grade, my parents said I could get a dog. They said, “Tomorrow, we will find one in the newspaper and go look at it.” So the next morning, I woke up at 5, ran outside to get the paper and highlighted every dog I wanted. I was a big Pokemon fan back then, and I liked Pikachu. So I picked the dog that was a peekapoo. I was such a dork — or more of one than I am now.
But, you know, I have stayed up until 5 a.m. because of excitement. It was the night after my first date with my girlfriend Kristen. I was so giddy afterward that I took the subway back to Harlem and I lay in my bed, awake, until 5 a.m. Every other time this happened to me in my life, I’d be really carefully because if I made any sudden movement, I would wake up from that dream. So I tried not to make any sudden movements that night. Yeah, I’m crazy.
I guess all these memories all meld together to create the place I call 5 a.m. I guess, most of the time, I remember it for the extreme emotions and overwhelming anxiety — there’s no other reason to be up so early. Except, this time, my internal clock is just messed up. And though I don’t particularly feel extreme emotion or anxiety, I am reminded of all those things lying here, in bed.
If you’ve read this far down, you’re probably wondering why I would post such a column. Well, it’s 5 a.m. And sometimes a writer just needs to write to his readers. Sometimes, a reader does more for a writer — simply by reading — than a writer does for the reader. So, hey, thanks.