Since I started working overnight shifts, I’ve become part of a different world. Everything is inverted and foreign. Sunsets have turned into sunrises and sunrises into sunsets. Sleep comes solely in fits and spurts of two or three hours, and lunch time is at two in the morning. The workers from both Taco Bell and Aiberto’s 24 Hour Mexican know my name and that I’ll only get mild sauce if I’ve gotten more than five hours of sleep the day before. I spend more time talking to myself or to books than I spend talking to real people.
I work on the inventory team stocking shelves, setting up displays, making sure the store is clean—making sure everything is in good shape. There are four others who work with me, but we hardly ever see each other—I shelve my cart; they shelve theirs. The only time we meet is for breaks: twice for ten minutes and once for an hour every eight-hour shift. On our breaks, we talk about paper cuts, chapped lips and dried-out hands, and sleep—always sleep.
To us, sleep is an obsession—sleep is an addiction. Going to bed at 7am, waking up at 10am, back to sleep at 3pm, and then up again at 8pm is considered a normal sleep pattern. Playlists on my iPod are named “for when I’m sleepy,” “for when I’m really sleepy,” and one called “I just drank a Rockstar.” Each hour I’m awake is another hour wish I was sleeping. My body craves sleeps; each bone, each muscle, each joint screams sleep. I must have it; I want it; I need it.
After finishing our shift one morning, the other co-workers and I walked out of the store and into the parking lot. Everything was cold, pallid, and grey-tinted. Fog hugged the ground, hiding our cars. The moon had fallen to the horizon and was now just a fat, orange ball, which seemed to be hung over from the night before. In one hand, I held my keys; in the other was half a sandwich that I had decided would make a good breakfast.
We all said our obligatory have-a-nice-weekends and see-you-Mondays, then each turned and walked to our cars. I started my car and turned on the heater, trying to melt the frost of my windshield. I pumped my hands open and closed and clapped them together to try to warm them. Cupped over my mouth, I blew hot air into them. It was a kind of cold that makes your bones ache.
A few minutes later a gloved hand knocked on my window. I rolled down my window to see Derek standing there with a balaclava over most of his face.
“I thought you might want to see this,” he said. He took a few steps back and let me open my door. I stepped out and felt the air fill my lungs. The cold made it feel like I was inhaling daggers.
“See what?” I said, taking a bite of my sandwich. He motioned behind me, a gloved finger pointing just over my shoulder.
Puzzled, I turned and looked behind me.
“Just watch,” he said.
The sky, which was lifeless and dismal a few minutes before, was now more of an early grey—like something was awaking within it. The grey slowly turned the color of a robin’s egg and then to a pale, but still vibrant orange. Soon, the sun breached the horizon and climbed up the sky, cascading light across everything around me. It was beautiful.
I leaned against my car, folding my arms across my chest. I let out a small laugh as if to say, oh right—that. I could feel the sun’s warmth as it burned through the fog.
“You know,” I said. “I miss this. I really do.”
With our cars still running, Derek and I leaned back and watched the world around us come to life. The birds started to fly from one light post to another, searching the parking lot for discarded fast food. Car lights on Lancaster drive were blurry as people drove to their jobs. The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, becoming bright enough I had to squint to look at it.
“Until Monday,” Derek said, turning to his car and shutting the door. He drove off leaving me alone in the parking lot.
Despite trying to function of limited sleep, I felt strangely awake. Each and every joint ached and throbbed, but I felt awake—I felt alive. Everything about the world around me was something new, something I’ve never met before.
I felt the fog with my fingertips and realized that it was slippery. Birds chirped and sang, and I knew it sounded beautiful because it gave me goosebumps the same way that good poems gave me goosebumps. Colors were almost too saturated: the only thing I think about the grass was that it was “really green. I mean, really really green,” and the sky was “blue, but a really nice blue.” And, for some reason, this all made sense.
I took another deep breath, holding it in and letting the cold air burn in my lungs. Another deep breath, letting it burn again. I smiled, knowing that this was the way life was supposed to be—knowing that life wasn’t meant to simply be lived, it was meant to be experienced.
I drove home that morning feeling a little closer to Thoreau and Emerson and appreciating the new world I was a part of.