It is the dead of night, and the world is asleep. My parents snore upstairs, while my sister kicks her way out of a nightmare and my baby brother coos softly. I sneak down stairs and check the time: 2am. Perfect.
I turn on the CRT television, and the hiss of static greets me. Startled, I turn down the volume and wait patiently for any sound of a stir. A few minutes pass and I know I am alone. I adjust the volume ‘barely audible’, and flip through channels to Nickelodeon. This was before Nick@Night’s block had taken over, and the same Nicktoons from earlier in the day were playing.
Tonight, it was Rugrats. Tommy was leading his friends to safety out of their play pen, which had transformed into a moat filled with alligators. Angelica, Tommy’s cousin, tried to thwart their imaginary feat, but they succeeded.
As time passes and the night grows longer I feel my heart lift out of my chest. I am in a bubble, and from within the world seems different. The Earth is asleep; there is no crime, no chatter, no tears, no yelling or fear. There is only the stillness of the night; a reprieve from reality.
Whereas just hours before the actors who participated in the play of Life were going through the motions, stating their intentions and taking action against the hurdles that were presented in front of them. Now, they were off stage. I imagine asking one of them, how do you do it, ‘living’? How do you cope, and participate? And they would be propped against a window, smoking, with the moon and its aurelian hue in the background. You get used to it. You get through the daily obstacles, and you get your moments of calm as rewards but it’s always hard. The phantom would flick their cigarette and continue. You learn to like the challenge. In a big way, that is life. Survival. Thank god for late nights like these when the world sleeps around you. And I’d nod.
Thirteen years later, when I was in college, I had the opportunity to explain this to my friends who were up with me late one night. The group had a much different vibe, a more chilled air, where not even the most thunderous event could break our bond. It was unspoken until that point when I explained that, and referenced the nights I spent prior staying up all night to watch television (and later incorporating video games when I was a teenager). They agreed, and we toasted with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon under an impossibly still sky of stars, the winter winds whispering softly.
I still think back to that night when I was six, when I first noticed the depth of late night. Forever had my life been altered by this unabashedly human discovery. For many years after I sought that “present” state, which was only achieved when fighting to stay awake. When I could no longer stay up all night, I didn’t pine for that bubble. I was happy to have had those moments in the dark, lonely corners of the world. It was there that I found peace. I pocketed those memories and carry them in every step of my waking life knowing that if need be, I could always return.