“Moonlight Savings Time”
I awaken to moonlight– it is that particular slant of silver that lights up the front yard at 3 AM. What really has awakened me is my husband’s breathing. It is labored like he has just run up a flight of stairs. At times I awaken because I do not hear his breath and some alarm goes off in my head to check on him. If I cannot hear him breathing I put my hand ever so lightly on his chest so as not to wake him, to see if I can feel his heart beating. Feeling it pulsing in my hand I am reassured once more. I am not alone in this breath-check business. My sister-in-law confides in me that she wakes up at night to listen to my brother to see if he is still breathing. My grade school friend says much the same. Our husbands are relatively well. They have diabetes, heavy smoking/drinking, and a delicate frame among them, but they are not on death’s door so far as we know. And yet we are plagued by morbid fears.
In the wee hours of morning hobgoblins of fear loom large. My husband’s heartbeat, a mere flutter, seems so delicate. I am reassured that it is beating just as I am reassured that he is breathing. But the breath itself is so fragile. It scares me– the fragility of the breath, the fine line between breathing and the cessation of breath.
I prowl the house. Through the bathroom skylight the stars beam brightly, offset by the shining, silver sliver of moonlight. It will be a clear day tomorrow. But it is already tomorrow. It is so still my ears hum. My husband, who knows so many interesting things, tells me the humming I hear is the sound of the nervous system. Our bodies hold such mystery.
I look out the window, now hearing my neighbor’s dogs barking quietly. I look for coyote thinking that is what they are barking at, but see nothing. The moonlit grass on the lawn is an expanse of white, looking almost as if it had snowed, and the water in the marsh sparkles spangles of moonlight. The deep woods behind are pitch dark, the home of many a creature. Nothing stirs. It is too early for the birds. The house across the way is always dark; it is up for sale. And in the other direction, at this hour, no light shines in the driveway of the house down the road.
I am reminded of a line from a poem by Tagore “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” I am at my most faithless at 3 AM.
Along with the supreme beauty of Tagore’s thoughts, a frivolous line from an old song runs through my head, like a commercial ruining a masterpiece of film: “There ought to be a moonlight savings time…” and the line continues “so there would be more time for loving” or some such drivel—perhaps meant for the piquant ting of a new fling.
I check email and surf the web to try to dispel the feeling of aloneness but it merely accentuates it. Finally, chilled, I go back to bed. An owl hoots in the distance– a reassuring sound. My husband is breathing freely now. His body is warm in the bed and I am filled to the brim with love for him as he lays in a heap, so trustingly in the arms of sleep. Our marriage is an unlikely and unexpected wonder. A seemingly endless source of ever-increasing love. A double-edged sword, for with that love comes the terror of its loss. Death can come in an instant, at any time. We live our lives in daily denial of how vulnerable and powerless we all are.
Perhaps the only control we have is over our own thoughts. I score low in that department. Perhaps all wives check their husbands for breathing. Perhaps there is an army of women out there prowling the wee hours of the night, at times by moonlight, checking on their husbands, their children, their animals to see that they all have that breath of life still flowing.
“There ought to be a moonlight savings time…” I thank God, at such times, there is not.
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