I wake up just before the dark.
I eat breakfast in the remnants of whatever weak sunlight we grasped through the clouds during the day. I tie my running shoes as twilight descends, and by the time I finish my warmup and start running down the boardwalk over the bay, the streetlights are on.
I run in the dark.
And if I am very lucky, the rain will begin to fall. Again.
I drive to work in the dark.
I fill the gas tank under the harsh glare of flood lights. The cheap gas is on the same street as many of the meth labs in town, and I watch the tweakers skitter across the sidewalks, heading for the McDonalds. And by the time I make my way to the Starbucks drive-thru, the baristas on shift are all university students, done with classes for the day and carefully socking away their minimum wage for weekends in the city.
I order a large soy latte in the dark.
And if I am very lucky, they will mess up my drink order. Again.
I start my shift in the dark.
We will probably be six or seven deep in the waiting room, more if it’s a Monday or the day after a holiday. We will definitely have an ICU player or two, and at least five admissions. We will be short one tech, and maybe one break nurse. I will probably be in fast track, juggling five or six patients, including the fifteen-month-old who cries so hard when he sees me that he’s already vomited all over his father’s shirt.
As I pass meds, I glance out the windows to the parking lot, dimly lit in the dark.
And if I am very lucky, I will be working with the slowest PA in the entire world for the next six hours. Again.
~ ~ ~
Ten hours later, I will leave work in the dark.
I will drive home in the dark. I will have a snack, brush my teeth, crawl into bed, and fall asleep, all long before the light breaks over the mountains to the east.
This is the way of this world, this sliver of the globe, just shy of the 49th parallel, just west of an ancient volcano. In six months I will do all of these very same things, but they will all be in a deeply angled sunlight that refuses to relinquish its hold on the day.
But for now, as I start to drift towards sleep in a strangely buoyant exhaustion, these are the things I remember:
There are Christmas lights up, twining around the balconies of the condos along the bay road. They sparkle in the dark as I run past. There is one particular tree, just off the main road, where someone has climbed more than thirty feet up, and wound a quiet spectrum of lights high in the air. You’d never see them if you were driving past in a car, your eyes focused down on the pavement.
The rain keeps me cool, washes the sweat from my face.
The girl leaning out the drive-thru window who messed up my coffee order had just been born when I graduated from high school. She is contrite and cheerful and comps me my medium almond-milk mocha. As I drive away she accuses her co-workers, her friends, of distracting her yet again and they all laugh.
The father of the fifteen-month-old is so relieved that his son will be ok that he doesn’t even mention the puke on his shirt. He cradles his son in his arms, bouncing him up and down as they walk out in the hallway, distracting him with their reflections in the dark windows. Now that his fever has broken, the boy shrieks with delight as they make faces at each other.
The slow PA takes the time to sit by a bed and comfort the woman who tripped on a stair and shattered her ankle. It won’t be healed by Christmas, and she is heartbroken, her holiday plans in ruins. The PA holds her hand while she weeps.
~ ~ ~
I replay the tape in my head of all the people I met in the dark after fast track closed, all the people I am not.
I am not the woman in bed ten. My lover did not beat me so badly that I can no longer hear out of my left ear, can no longer see out of my right eye, can no longer use my smashed left hand, the hand I used to try to protect my face.
I am not the infant in bed fifteen. I was not born addicted to heroin, suffering the agonies of withdrawal from my first breath, my heart rate plummeting every few moments as a side effect of medication given to try to ameliorate my suffering.
I am not the man in the trauma bay, c-collar in place, vacu-splint tight around my spine. My truck was not hit at 50 miles an hour out deep in the county by another man who chose to drink instead of cope. I am not staring at the ceiling, wondering if a “C6 fracture” is bad, guessing that it probably is, wondering who will pay the bills, wondering if this helicopter ride to the city and the surgery tomorrow will cost me my house.
I fall asleep in the dark.
~ ~ ~
I wake up in the dark.
It is a Monday. It is raining. Starbucks is out of soy milk.
I am very lucky.