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Midnight: An exploration of the in-between

1. As a child, midnight was a far-off place whose only inhabitants were dreams afraid of daylight. My parents made me go to bed around eight or nine, but I would often just be in my room reading a book or listening to the radio. Delilah was the late-night show. She took callers and gave them advice about their problems or celebrated engagements or pregnancies. Sometimes she just listened. Then she played a song just for them. She’s still the voice that plays on my car radio late at night. She would talk, then play a song, then talk some more. And I would lay in the twin bed that once belonged to my great grandmother and listen, staring up.

2. My first roommate’s and I favorite past time was drinking cranberry vodkas from coffee mugs and laying under the water tower that overlooked our little college town. We let midnight wash over us like water while we waited for the clouds to move on so we could see the stars. Lying there, I was taken back to my backyard when I’d lie under the sun with my eyes closed and feel the earth move. Lying next to her I told her that if she concentrated, she’d be able to feel it too. She’d smoke cigarettes, and we’d talk about nothing or show each other our favorite songs. I taught her how to make a bellow in an empty bottle, and she taught me how to stop caring so much about what other people thought of me. We’d walk back to our dorm when we got too cold, stumbling and laughing down the hill, holding on to each other so we wouldn’t slide down.

3. Whenever I hear descriptions of midnight, it’s always blue. I don’t know why this is. Maybe because it was so revolutionary and so true at one point in time that it just stuck. I suppose it’s half true, depending on where you live and on the season. Here in North Idaho, winter brings us a blue midnight unlike any other. When the night is clear, and it’s snowing, the moonlight paints everything cobalt leaving silver shadows in its wake. Summer midnights are darker, almost purple. They can even be black if you’re driving through a forested area that doesn’t have any streetlamps. The color of midnight is the color of longing. Longing for dawn, the newness of a day that will erase the day before.

4. I used to tell myself that I couldn’t stop working until the digital clock on my desk flashed midnight. My computer’s light bore into my eyes while I read page after page about how Arabic influences the Spanish language, or about different strategies for selling cranberry juice to the millennial market. I knew that if I were asleep by 12:30 or 1:00, I would still have enough consciousness to focus during my project meeting at 8:00 AM the next day when we were going discuss how to create a translation company with only $5,000 of capital. Sitting there, I wished I could close my eyes and be in a far-off place where I didn’t need to know the history of a language or the spending habits of a group of people. I wanted to be somewhere where none of it mattered, somewhere I could bask in the wholeness of the universe. Sometimes, I would nod off at my desk with my fingers still balanced on the home row of my keyboard, a dehydrated paste forming over the tongue in my open mouth, startled awake by the sprinklers coming on again.

5. The first time I spent the night with a boy, I was nineteen. We camped for free at the fairgrounds near the end of March. It was the only way we’d be able to share the night together without threat of another person showing up unwanted. We played strip poker, slowly removing our socks then sweaters then underwear. He was the first boy to see me naked before I stopped eating, when I couldn’t yet see my sternum or the faint outline of my ribs. He touched his nose to mine and told me I was beautiful at a time when I never thought I could be beautiful or desirable again, caressed the curves of my body with the care of a jeweler admiring a sapphire ring. We weren’t prepared for the cold that wrapped our bodies in ice when midnight came, but we didn’t want to leave each other. We spent the hours trying to get warm enough to finally find sleep, only to become too warm once the sun rose. That was the thing about being with him – nothing was ever quite right.

6. I never knew what it was like to sweat all night until I lay in my first apartment, the open window seeming to let in more hot than cool air to the already sweltering room. I would wear a tee-shirt and underwear and lie on top of my covers, the heavy air weighing on my chest and legs. The only comfortable position was to lie like a starfish, each limb touching a different corner of my bed. Sirens, semi-trucks and cigarette smoke assaulted my senses, keeping me awake late into the night. I would sometimes estimate the time that had passed by counting how many cigarettes my downstairs neighbor would smoke. I knew it was nearing 1:00 AM when the sprinklers came on again.

7. Alone. I hated being in bed alone. During the day, alone was not the same. I rather enjoyed my solitude, welcoming the time I could be with my thoughts and nothing else. But in bed, near midnight, everything seemed different. The heavy dark of my small room reminded me of how inferior I felt during the day. I didn’t look good enough, wasn’t thin enough. I didn’t use the right tense speaking in Spanish class that day. I ate more than I should have. I missed all the pitches during choir rehearsal. I felt too winded after walking over the hill to get to my apartment. All I wanted was another body in the room, someone to warm the cold places of my heart. The ones I filled with hate and loathing. These feelings were quickly replaced with guilt – I knew I was better than that. I was tough and whole and didn’t need anyone. But if only I could wear a size smaller, speak more naturally in a foreign tongue, be a better vocalist – I could be loved. I still felt un-human and wanted someone to remind me of my own fragility, tell me it was okay to feel this pain. I didn’t know this person I needed was another version of myself, buried deep within, afraid of the dark carried in her soul.

8. When I went to parties, I would drink vodka and juice from a yellow water bottle. It was always the store brand. I didn’t care what it tasted like as long as I could drink it and feel my jaw and ankles grow heavy, like they were moving through honey. It kept me warm walking home or made midnight dancing more fun. There were plenty of times I fell into a stranger’s arms not knowing their name or ever having seen them before. I didn’t know the risk, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was finding someone to give me the validation I so craved, someone to tell me I was pretty enough, smart enough, to be loved. The alcohol gave me the confidence, and the strangers showed me I mattered. I brought them home and let them kiss and lust over the parts of my body I hated, all so I wouldn’t have to lie in my hot, dark room alone.

9. The weekend after my first boyfriend broke up with me, I brought a boy home after a Halloween party. We both agreed about how the night would end after I whispered in his ear that I lived just down the street, and it would only take us two minutes to get there and behind a closed door. Once we were in my bedroom, I suggested playing rain sounds thinking it would be the perfect thing to set the mood, but he didn’t seem to care and I was drunk, still tasting the orange juice on the back of my teeth. We embraced each other in the purple night, enjoying the warmth and salt of our conjoined bodies when all of a sudden, while still on top of him, I started crying. He was the first boy I ever cried in front of, and I don’t even remember his name, only that he cried with me and asked me if I knew what an empath was. I said I didn’t, and we turned far away from one another trying to find some kind of peace within ourselves. When we woke up, I made him wait to leave until I heard my roommate shut our front door on her way to church because I felt too embarrassed that I wouldn’t be able to introduce them and because I was afraid of him seeing me undressed and sober in daylight.

10. The first time Hans came to my apartment, we baked bread together. It came out of the oven around midnight, and we stood in my kitchen devouring the warm loaf. We got drunk and danced in my living room to “Mother’s Little Helper” and anything else we could think of. He kissed me for the first in the middle of my living room floor and made me feel like I deserved the world. We entered our own far-away place of lust and passion, letting our bodies guide us into the early hours of the morning. When he looked into my eyes, I felt love bloom deep inside of me, the same way roots suddenly sprout from a seed in the beginning of spring. Once we finally fell asleep between the white of my sheets, we were sweaty, smelling like salt. It was a feeling I never wanted to let go of, a feeling I’d never had before. But I couldn’t quite decipher what to call it. I didn’t know what I’d be losing to him over the next few months when Hans’ charm trapped me in the gray-blue of his eyes and broadness of his shoulders.

11. When I was seven, I had a recurring dream that my younger brother was a ghost who wanted to destroy the world. In this dream, my father took my best friend and I to a hotel similar to The Davenport in Spokane, but our room wasn’t quite ready, so we were sent to the pool to play. The pool, however, was of a Holiday Inn quality. While we were swimming, spooky sounds echoed off the high white walls of the pool area, and I remember feeling scared. My heart sped up, and butterflies made a home in the pit of my stomach. Our splashing ceased, but my dad didn’t seem to notice. He cared only that it was time for us to go to our room, ignoring any of the worries we had. The room was ornate and gigantic – a true suite, complete with multiple rooms and strange angles. The only oddity was that there were bathrooms in every corner and a hallway full of nothing but tile leading to a plain door at the end. My friend and I entered, ominous music played, and a Christmas scene appeared before our eyes: scattered wrapping paper, a brown and shedding tree, an old apple core. The wall in front of us started moving, like it was going to crush us. So we ran. The wall moved faster and so did the music, getting louder and louder until we stopped in the main room where my brother’s ghost floated past, heading toward the window so he could destroy the world. I tried to stop him by grabbing his shoulders, but his head came right off his translucent body and with a maniacal laugh, he spun around to mock my failure. I always jumped awake, feeling like I was running out of breath. Sometimes, I would find comfort in my parents’ bed, unless the door was locked. In that case, I would be left to comfort myself with my stuffed rabbit and Delilah’s voice consoling strangers over the air.

12. I don’t know if midnight is the end of the day or the beginning. When I haven’t gone to bed yet, it feels like the end of the day. The part where I should be in bed, asleep, dreaming of far-away places and loves I haven’t had yet. Midnight calls my name from the comfort of my sheets, beckons me from my desk where I’m working, or the couch, where I lie staring at the ceiling, afraid of what I’ll see when I close my eyes. But midnight is also when we ring in the new year, the ultimate clean slate waiting for us to carve our names, our hopes, our mistakes into its hard granite. At my childhood sleepovers, when we’d stay up to midnight or past, we’d joke about how “it’s today already,” but now, lying on Tim’s chest at 12:30 AM, we talk about what we’ll do “tomorrow” as later in the 24 hours we will inhabit together. Maybe midnight is like a ground zero, a place where everything, and nothing, exist simultaneously.

13. It was one of the last times Hans and I spent the night together in my apartment. We had fished an unfinished drawing out of a random recycling bin on the way back over the hill and spent the evening drinking and discussing what we thought it meant. At first, it was a civilized discussion of us trying to understand why the bodies were positioned away from each other. Later, it turned into us getting into the contradicting position and talking about how we felt. Sitting on his lap with my body facing away from his while looking into his eyes, I felt the reality of our relationship sink in. Sometime around midnight, after we had sweated through my sheets, I rolled into him, unaware that he would break my heart a few short weeks later.

14. I think midnight sits perched between the old and the new, the sleeping and the sleepless, the person I was and the person I am yet to become. In Spanish, midnight is la media noche, translating directly to the middle night. I find it interesting that it’s not el medio de la noche, which would mean something completely different: the middle of the night. These two seem like they have the same meaning, but I think they are quite different, or at least, adjacent to one another. The middle of the night can be any time from when it gets dark to when the sun finally comes up, but the middle night is precisely that, the in-between, both a beginning and an end. The etymology suggests that midnight is twelve o’clock, sitting precisely between one day and the next. This could mean, then, that midnight takes place for only sixty seconds. Other things that happen in sixty seconds: 258 babies are born; 1,800 stars explode; Bill Gates earns $15,000; 180,000,000 google searches are done; 108 people die; the fastest snail travels 2.6 feet; 500,500,000,000 hearts beat. All in sixty seconds, someone has their best day, and another has their worst, another their last.

15. The first night I met Tim I was covered in paint and wearing only shorts and a tie-dye sports bra. We shared a cherry cigar on an apartment patio while everyone else was playing drinking games or trying to sober up enough to drive home. He looked at me differently than Hans had, like my beauty rested in the parts of myself that scared me the most. Like he wanted to know every story about every scar and still love me, regardless. Tim and I had always been cognizant of one another but had never spoken until that midnight in late August 2018. A few weeks later I slept in his bed rather than walk across town back to mine under the purple autumn sky. He offered to sleep on the couch, but the sweet memory of that cherry cigar compelled me to ask him if he’d stay, hold me and keep me warm through the cold night ahead. When he kissed me for the first time, I felt like I’d be able to open myself to him, despite the burning fear of heartbreak lurking in the back of my mind. I didn’t know what would happen when the sun rose, but I did know that I never wanted to abandon the comforting heat in my chest.

16. After five mojitos and cutting my finger on broken glass, my friend and I left the secret club and wandered back to la Plaza Vieja because we were too tired to keep drinking but not tired enough to sleep. The Caribbean air was heavy, pressing down on our tanned shoulders. We sat in the square and played with ten or so stray dogs, watching children run barefoot playing soccer. I barely knew him, but the night encouraged us to tell each other our innermost secrets. There’s something about alcohol and midnight heat that invites vulnerability, and in my enlightened state I finally understood the freedom it could bring. The night opened my soul to the possibility of living fearlessly – taking the most broken parts of myself and holding them near my heart.

17. In my great grandmother’s twin bed, when I would lie awake for hours, I’d pass the time telling myself stories. Cars would go by and I would think about where their drivers were going in such a rush so late at night. Or I’d hear trains in the distance and wonder what it would be like to ride in their cars or walk along the tracks until I found the end. If there was an end. Other times, I’d lie in silence, keeping my eyes open until they couldn’t bear it any longer. I remember watching the shadow of snow falling on the wall next to my bed, how it looked like little moons floating down to cover the earth in a peaceful silence. Lying awake so late, I learned to make shadow puppets with my reading light, and I’d put on one-girl productions a few nights a week. Sleep didn’t come easy to me then, and midnight was the good friend that often helped me find it. Sleep, still, is not so easy to find without its help.

18. We were in the back of my car in a hotel parking lot eating mac and cheese and drinking wine out of the bottle, some 500 miles away from home when Hans decided to tell me he hadn’t been serious at all, in any part of our relationship. He’d led me on. He couldn’t love me. I didn’t believe him. I just stared past him, through the midnight fog on the windows hoping he didn’t mean any of what he just said. He tried to take it back, tried to tell me we should talk about it the next night, when we weren’t sleeping in my car. I agreed, hoping he’d forget or somehow fall as deeply in love with me as I had with him in the next few hours. I tried to get to sleep that night, cramped by firewood and plastic totes and coolers and Hans’ muscled body, but all I could do was squeeze my eyes tight enough and hold my breath to keep my tears from falling.

19. After I got back from Costa Rica in 2019, I decided to finally spend a summer in Moscow. On my first night there, my two best friends and I made our way up to the water tower overlooking the little town we now called home. We looked at the stars and drank and laughed and tried to imagine what life would be like without one another. We made grand plans to have girls’ trips and midnights at the bars and eyes bigger than the moon above us. We were fearless that night. We peed in the woods and held hands and sang our way downtown for pizza in the cool night air of June. It was our last year together, before we all started our post-college lives, and we promised each other to do it right. To have fun. To look out for one another. To have more nights like these – eating cheap pizza in the park at midnight, or just being able to laugh together, carelessly.

20. I often can’t fall asleep because I’m worried. I never know what I’m worried about, but I suppose it’s everything. The worry ricochets through my body, rendering any position in our bed extremely uncomfortable. Tim is already asleep, and I sometimes wish I could just sleep by myself when I feel this way. It’s too hot to lose myself in the comfort of his arms, the typically welcome heat from his body too much for the blood pumping through my veins. I wonder if we’ll keep fighting about the same things. I wonder if he can ever heal from his past, I from mine. I wonder if we’ll be okay. If we’ll stay together for all of the years we say we will. I find myself longing for the falling little moons and chill of my childhood bed where I could find the far-off place of peace within myself. Instead, I listen to his breath, as comforting to me now as Delilah’s voice once was in my old, shabby twin bed.

21. I used to sneak into my little brother’s room the night before big holidays, the ones where Santa or the Easter Bunny or other mythical creatures would leave little gifts for us to find the next day. It was always around midnight when we were sure our parents would be asleep, or at least unaware of what their children were doing across the hall. I’d take my stuffed rabbit and creep out of my room, gently knock on his door. We’d fantasize about catching leprechauns with our carefully made traps or try to figure out where the Easter Bunny hid the eggs. I even thought I saw Santa one Christmas Eve, but it turned out to just be a bean bag chair. Spending this time together was more exciting than the holiday itself, just the two of us giggling into the night before morning came when the rest of our family would concern itself with ironed shirts and dinner times and who was bringing which dish. We could be our authentic selves, less alone in the world because we had one another, and we’d always have one another. Our giggles would sometimes wake our parents, and when they came to check on us, we’d fake being asleep so well I would’ve been surprised if they knew.

22. We were out at the bar, and midnight was closing in on us. It was my roommate’s 21st birthday, and we were making the most of it. Like we’d promised each other we’d do the month before eating pizza in the park. I had little money, but enough to buy a drink with five different types of liquor in it that tasted something like what I imagine the flavor of purple nail polish remover to be. We took selfies in all the bar bathrooms lining Main Street, each one blurrier than the last. My roommate and I danced on the patio tables at the club to “Just a lil’ thick,” singing loudly and badly for anyone who would listen. One of the bartenders gave me a free tequila shot when I confessed I’d never done one before, and I taught my two closest friends the tico version of taking shots I’d learned in Costa Rica. Arriba, abajo, a centro, a dentro! When midnight had passed, we made the uphill trek back home giggling and basking in the warm moonlight.

23. I try to make myself go to bed at nine or ten, but sometimes I can’t resist the call of midnight from deep within myself. Only so I can stare out the window at falling snow or a clear moon painting everything cobalt or purple. I occasionally find myself staring up at the ceiling, wondering if I can still make shadow puppets or feel the earth move if I concentrate enough. Sleep comes easier now, but I often find myself longing for the midnights of my past rather than dreaming of the ones I haven’t experienced yet. I fear what may happen in the future more than any of my pains from the past, and when fear comes, I snuggle deeper into Tim’s body lying next to mine, often knowing he’s not really asleep either. Or we’ve just gone to bed and are bearing our souls to one another in the dark, welcoming the invitation of vulnerability and understanding midnight brings us.

24. Maybe being love is a bit like midnight, a place where everything and nothing can exist at the same time. Both the end and the beginning. The grand balancing act we all must perform in one way or another. It is the tightrope we walk between each version of ourselves, choosing who we reveal them to, choosing to love, regardless. Sometimes midnight is the end, and our hearts get broken after we’ve given them willingly to another person who was not ready to hold us near their light. Sometimes midnight is the beginning, where we sow new seeds in the scorched earth of our souls, hopeful they will flourish and make what was once destroyed beautiful again. Most of the time, midnight is the middle, the place where we look into ourselves and trust what is there, in spite of not knowing if we’ll be caught or fall weightlessly and spiral downward into a dark nothingness.

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