The Wee Small Hours



Alexander McCall Smith wrote “At night we are all strangers, even to ourselves.” Tonight I am relearning the truth in that. I have surely been lying in this bed for a dozen hours, but the clock on my phone tells me the truth — it’s only 1 a.m. Sheep have been counted, pages have been read, deep breathing has been practiced and soothing sounds have played from a noise machine in the corner, but sleep is nowhere in sight.

Storms have rolled in. The room lights up with the shadows cast by lightning, and the thunder rolls above. Normally these sounds are  soothing … I’ve always loved a good storm. But not tonight. They’re just the punctuation to the ongoing monologue in my head. They are the reminders of who and what I miss.

With every rumble and boom, I picture my dogs Elvis and Darryl. They hate storms. Elvis, particularly, is terrified of weather he can hear but can’t hide from. Since the time we rescued him several years ago, he has been the poster dog for relaxation. He can literally sleep anywhere. But when a storm begins, sometimes even a few hours before we humans can hear a thing, Elvis loses his chill and begins to pace. As the storm gets closer, he gets more frantic. He moves from room to room, unable to settle anywhere even for a moment. He licks his lips, and his eyes dart around the room. Until the storm has passed, even if it’s all night long, Elvis barely blinks.

Elvis and Darryl don’t live with me anymore. They are being taken care of by a dear lady who lost her own dog a while back and agreed to welcome my dogs into her home. I couldn’t provide them with a fenced-in yard and constant companionship, but she could. And I am so grateful.

But, oh, I miss my sweet dogs. And tonight, with the storm wreaking havoc on the silence that night usually brings, I can picture my sweet Elvis pacing and fretting. Will he sleep at all? Will he know that he is safe and loved? I wish so much I could hold him right now and make everything better.

Elvis IS safe, though, and well protected. I cannot say the same for my son. And that is the real reason this night is lasting an eternity. My son is not happy, and he is not safe. He is in a place I cannot reach. All I can do is worry and hope and remember.

When Thomas was a baby, he fought sleep like a warrior raging battle against his mortal enemy. Through feedings and rockings and walks in the stroller, his eyes stayed open. We tried everything — holding him all night, letting him cry all night  and various combinations of the two — but my little boy was determined not to surrender. I have no idea how he survived on so little sleep. It nearly did me in.

He grew out of that to some degree, but as a grade-schooler sleep was not his friend. Every night I lay on the floor next to his bed, reaching up to hold his hand until he could fall asleep. I would slip out, holding my breath, praying he’d have a restful night. He rarely did. He had nightmares, horrible visions of children who were hungry or cold — children who had none of the comforts he had. He would wake up crying, and I would return to my spot on the floor to hold his hand until he fell asleep again.

There came a time, seemingly overnight, when he became a typical teenager who could sleep until noon, through any noise or attempt to wake him. I was relieved. But, if I’m honest, I missed those hours with his hand engulfed in mine, knowing that he needed me — just me — to bridge the gap from this world to sleep.

Years have passed, and my son is living his life under the weight of the choices he has made. They are strapped to him like a backpack full of bricks made of regret and pain  and he is unable to lay that burden down. Those choices have led him to a dark place … a place I cannot go.

Tonight I would give my soul to be able to reach out and hold his hand and pull him through what lies ahead. But I cannot. I can only lie here, under the weight of my own pack of sorrows and what ifs, and hope that this night is kind to him. May he wake up safe and whole. And may he, someday, reach out to me. And if he does, may I have the wisdom and strength to hold on tight enough to save us both.


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