At 4:37 a.m., I finally gave up. I tossed and turned all night, growing progressively more frustrated as 5:30 crept closer. I was so exhausted when I finally fell asleep, but there's no rest for the weary, I hear. So with quiet resignation, I rubbed my eyes and creaked across the dark living room to bring my laptop back to bed with me.
There's a different kind of darkness on the other side of midnight. It's a secret darkness no one is supposed to be able to see, usually blanketed by bleary eyes or set ablaze by the two-second cell-phone glow of a drunken text message. I don't like it.
The music propelling me toward sunrise feels like an intrusion on the night, floating over the cycling of the toilet tank and the persistent clank of the radiators. It's so quiet, but it seems loud enough to wake the neighbors.
I like light. I like early to bed, early to rise. Healthy, wealthy, wise — that kind of thing. I like mornings. Though I don't think I'll like this morning. In fact, I'll go on the record and blame daylight-saving time for screwing with my meridians or circadian rhythm, or whatever.
Even as I say that, I know it's a lot of other things that I have a lot more control over, but at this hour, it's comforting to blindly cast aspersions on the universe. I just split an infinitive: Go with it.
The past weekend was a bright spot at the end of a fairly dark month. Jon, one of my best friends since college, flew to Chicago on Friday night to spend two whirlwind days with me, eating and drinking everything in sight, playing tourist.
We sat in the corner of the Violet Hour, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in Wicker Park, sipping $12 cocktails and reacquainting ourselves with the sight of each other outside of Kansas — it's been years since he came to visit. We're the same, but more tired.
We ordered a deep-dish pizza and sat side by side on my little sofa watching "Archer"; I nodded off before the first 20-minute episode had even finished.
We waited in line for at least an hour at Hot Doug's, the encased-meat emporium (their phrasing, not mine) in Avondale with a basic-cable cult following. We ordered an obscene spread, filling the table with corn dogs, gourmet sausages and French fries cooked in duck fat. I misjudged the distance to the train station after we ate, so we burned off six fries each walking through no man's land, past shuttered shops and so many barbershops we lost count, under highway overpasses to the Blue Line station.
We watched the ice skaters at Millennium Park and took pictures by the Bean. I was wearing brand-new, bright green jeans and spotted myself instantly, from the back of the plaza, in our wobbly, metallic reflection. I was giddy pretending to be from out of town.
It was so warm, windy and wonderful outside; the city was so, so alive.
It struck me how little I actually get out anymore when we walked into GT Fish & Oyster, a still-novel, newish seafood restaurant in River North, at 9 p.m. We were still a half-hour early, so we stood behind the bar with more cocktails — our third of the night — and waited with the beautiful people.
Somehow, with my massive grandpa sweater and windblown hair, I didn't feel like an outsider. That darkness, interrupted only by the humming Edison-style bulbs overhead and orange glow of streetlights outside, made us locals again, just waiting for our reservation. Later that night, a gorgeous woman perched on four-inch heels stood behind me in line for the restroom; we talked about the comical anguish of online dating. We were equals, a feeling I don't normally allow myself with people like that. I wonder if she doesn't, either.
We spent Sunday sleepwalking, really waking only to labor over the New York Times crossword. We tackled it with a single ballpoint pen and finished it after a little over an hour. We took a triumphant victory lap around the park, settling in on the swings and talked about our mutual states of arrested development as parents pushed their infants in bucket swings and chased their toddlers across the mulched playground.
We wandered my neighborhood for the rest of the afternoon, trying to slow the passage of time before he had to get on the train to Midway. A classical guitarist sat in the square, a blue trash can bungeed to his portable amp with a duct-tape "TIPS" sign, playing an arpeggiated soundtrack mixed with the staccato squeals of children still in their church clothes.
We said our goodbyes on a crowded shuttle bus. I get a strange, dark feeling when a houseguest leaves, a mix of guilt-inducing relief that my life is only my own again, and abject sadness that…well, that my life is only my own again.
I remember now what it's like counting down to payday. I hate the feeling, but this is the cubicle prison I wanted, right? It has to be better than holding my breath on the way to my mailbox, hoping there's a check that'll bring my bank account back to black so I can scrape out another month's rent.
If it makes weekends like this possible, that's what I'll keep telling myself. It's 5:29 a.m., and Emaline's asleep at the corner of the bed after standing on my head all night. An old Hootie and the Blowfish song started playing as my 5:30 alarm sounded, and I won't be skipping past it.
I'm feeling rough. I'm feeling raw. I'm in the prime of my life.
Time to pretend.