November 16, 2011

There and Back Again: Night Things


I was laying in my bed; it was 2 a.m.; I was awake.

About two hours earlier, my one-year-old black Labrador Retriever, Tilly, crawled out from under the covers where she was sleeping with me, and vomited right on top of the quilt. I was initially disgusted, then I was frustrated, then I realized she hadn't thrown up much. And it was the "dog" quilt, afterall -- a bed covering I had once loved, but now used just because it already had stains and chewed holes in it.

When Tilly is older and no longer eating bits of sticks from the yard and used tissues from the garbage, and when she's finished with the annoying habit of chewing on things like heirloom afghans and bed quilts because she's bored, I'll have a nicer duvet to snuggle up with. But that night, the double-sided blue quilt had been on duty until very recently. Now it was wadded up in a pile on the laundry room floor.

Just a few minutes earlier, Tilly threw up a second time. Thankfully, she had jumped down from the bed and landed on the rug. The worn, hard-wood flooring in my 1959 mid-century modern home is cold in the winter, even with the crawl space beneath the house that is warmed by the duct work. I bought an old rag rug on an annual shopping trip with family more than a year ago. The blues, yellows, and purples woven together make a warmer resting spot for my feet in the morning than the bare wood.

When I would get up for work later that morning, I wouldn't have the luxury of the woven rug. It was laying on top of the quilt on the laundry room floor wet with stomach bile. And a few pumpkin seeds I fed Tilly from my hand a few hours earlier.

One vomiting episode was troubling, but after the second one, I began to get worried. Had Tilly eaten something that was now blocking her digestive system? My lab, Precious, who passed away just a year ago had had such an obstruction just a week after she had come to live with me years ago. The memory and the concern kept me awake for hours that night. That, and the chirping of the smoke detector.

For two days it had chirped, and I kept forgetting to buy a new battery. Every time I would begin to doze off, worries about my sleeping puppy snoring restlessly next to me subsiding just for a minute, then the chirping.

I'm going to write about this, I thought, after I had checked email, turned on the radio, turned off the radio, watched YouTube Videos on my iPhone, turned the radio back on, changed the station of the radio.

Chirp.

I'm definitely going to write about this.

::

And here I sit, writing about that night, the expired battery from the smoke detector sitting on the table next to me. I still haven't replaced it; the chirping had just become too much to leave it in the device. I'm praying there's no fire before I have a chance to get to the hardware store.

Even as I was lying there in bed planning to write about that night, my mind was attempting to catalog the details, just like LL Barkat teaches in her writing book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing. When her daughter comes to her with a poem about night, LL determines that what the poem lacks is specificity.
"Anyone could say that about the night. I wonder how you could say something that others might not say?" she tells her. "Make a list of night things."
I lay there in my bed, paying attention. Country music playing on the clock radio beside the bed; the piece of chewed-up pink plastic toy in Tilly's vomit; the rush of rain knocking against the window and then stopping abruptly.

These I remember now. But I lay there for hours, listening, observing, and most of the details of that night were lost to me the minute my mind finally submitted to the death of sleep. The weave of the rug, the mid-century modern, the restless snoring - these details I recalled just this evening, piecing together the sequence, going back to the room in my mind, and making that list of night things.

As a young writer, I often balked at specificity. It seemed so exclusive. What I failed to see, though, was that these details of mine, these lists I make about the night things, they speak directly to the lists you are making about your own life.

My house is mid-century modern; your house is arts and crafts. I have worn hardwood floors; you have new grey carpet. I am awake at night worrying about my puppy; you are up worrying about your son. Everything is different; everything is the same.

I stumbled upon this beautiful specificity in a piece by Caroline Collie called, "I Know This Place." While she currently lives in South Africa, she grew up in North Carolina, and recently visited "home" with her family.

I don’t remember the leaves turning such a brilliant shade of yellow. I never saw a hummingbird do a dance like the one I saw last week. Back and forth in swoops that might’ve made infinity symbols in the air if he could paint it along the way — he must’ve been trying to impress somebody. He got me.
I was transported. To her home, with the leaves and the hummingbird. But also to the home of my childhood, to the climbing tree in front and the pony named Princess and my downstairs bedroom that sat empty at night while I took the bottom bunk of my brother's stacked beds upstairs.

::

Tilly vomited one more time that night. There's was almost nothing left in her, so it was easy to clean up. By that time, however, I had been awake three hours making lists of night things in my mind. The yawns were coming more frequently now.

Though I was worried about whether or not I would need to make an appointment with the vet the next morning and whether or not the new blanket I had draped over the bed was destined for the laundry room floor, I found myself nodding and jerking with the first signs of sleep. Tilly snuggled tight next to me, and my breaths became prayers.

Breathing in, "More of Jesus," breathing out, "less of me."

Waking up the next morning, I wondered if the whole thing had been a dream. When my feet hit the cold, wooden floor, it all came back to me.

::

Go THERE and visit Caroline Collie, and then come back HERE again!


Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.

Each Thursday, consider going "There and Back Again" yourself. It's simple.

Photo by JustinMN via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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