In the middle of the night, I would wake up under a heavy, red blanket. I’d peer out into my dark, little room from high on my brass bed and survey the shadows on the walls. If there was nothing scary, I’d slide the blanket off my little body and prepare for adventure.
My bed was so high up that I needed to slide over the side of the bed and lower myself down. It was a short cliff to a secret world. I dropped to the ground in my footie pajamas. As quiet as I could so no one would hear me and put me back to bed.
It happened nearly every night then like it does now. The middle of the night, wide awake, and not able to get back to sleep. Now, most often, I toss, turn, struggle, and overthink. But then, I went straight to my bookshelf, toddling on slippery-covered feet to get lost in pages, pictures, and words.
Using light from a small lamp, I’d pull a book from the shelf. I was only four years old and not able to read very well. Some words made sense and others looked like bees or ants crawling among the illustrations. The colors, movement, and characters leaped over the words entertaining, enticing, and delighting me.
Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are were there ready to lasso me in with tales of starry evenings and monsters in the forest. Next to them were numerous Dr. Seuss books ready to rhythm and rhyme in wonderfully radical ridiculousness.
Maybe The Very Hungry Caterpillar would take me away munching at the very pages I turned. Or Richard Scarry would have busy cities to discover, musical instruments to play, and furry friends to find in cars, buses, taxis, tractors, and all manner of machines.
Were you like me? Did you sleep restlessly? And do you still?
Did it begin when you were little? Did stories, tales, and adventures keep you awake at night? And do they keep you awake still?
Then, in my tiny self’s past, there were Batman and Robin comics on big, bursting pages next to a 45 RPM record in a sleeve. I wouldn’t play the vinyl but I’d turn through every page to help stop the Joker’s heist.
Or I’d swing through the air with The Amazing Spiderman who would clobber the Green Goblin, and then pick up The Incredible Hulk to see him battle space creatures on strange planets in bizarre colors covered by clouds of grunting dialogue like, “Me smash!”
Now, the stories that wake me are the ones I want to write. Of lost loves, burning fires, desolation, and drowning. Demons and drunken nights and broken careers and searching. So adult, so dark. Was I always that way?
Then, it was Where the Sidewalk Ends — which was darker than I knew — but Shel Silverstein knew how to wrap darkness in rhyme like a song. That made it easier to swallow.
Maybe that’s why music and songs woke me up in the middle of the night for so many years, too. I heard lyrics and melodies shaking me awake. Lustrous harmonies as a soundtrack for my books’ adventures. Organ grinding monkeys, circus songs, and sad refrains.
Did music in your head wake you up in the middle of the night? Did you ever find yourself wide awake at 3:00 am with a song in your head and no way to get back to sleep? Do you still?
In my young past, after an hour or two, I would put down the books and comics, and stop singing the songs in my head. I’d make sure to put everything back on the shelf in the same place so that no one would ever know.
Then, I would make my way back to the base of my bed. Looking up it was a marvelous mountain to climb. I’d need my tiny footstool and a hop, just to get enough of myself up, then momentum would get me the rest of the way. Afterward, I’d crawl up the heavy, red blanket to the head of my brass bed. To my pillows and underneath the blanket again. To dream about all I’d just read and seen and imagined.
Tonight, in this present world, I hope I sleep like when I was very young. But if I wake in the middle of the night, I hope I remove my heavy, gray blanket, climb down from my bed that is not so very high, and write the stories in my head.
I hope my stories become the adventures you read in the middle of the night. Then, I hope you fall right back to sleep.