An Essayby Jane Smiley
Every morning at four A.M., Jack and I wake up together. The five windows are all dark, as is the French door. Winter, summer, it is always dark at four a.m., and I like the continuity of that. We call this “the break.” At some point, we gave up on sleeping endlessly through the night. He goes into the bathroom. I rearrange the pillows and the covers.
We talk in quiet voices, but not in whispers. We don’t pretend we are not awake. Sometimes we switch sides, other times we chat. One night, he tells me about a dream he was having, that he was driving a bus, and could only make right turns. Another night, we take deep patterned breaths and then Omm the darkness. The important thing, the essential thing, is not to worry, not to even think the word “worry” or any of the other words—“what if,” “IRS,” “blockage,” “ Lanier,” “Ty,” “Phoebe,” “Lucy,” “AJ” (the names of our children), “I forgot to—,” or “I can’t forget to—.” All of these words are jolting. The unprotected sleeper, taking a break at four a.m., can almost feel these words electrocuting her if she lets them in, and so we prefer other words—the obvious but always soothing, “I love you” but also “May I do anything for you?” “Shall I tickle your back?” Any word, any action, whatever it takes to relax right here in this bed and not contaminate it, whatever it takes to lie quietly in this darkness and not project fear upon it.