Friday, March 13, 2015

In the Still of the Night

The noise was like distant cracks of thunder, full of electricity. Boom, hiss. Boom, hiss. And again.  Each charge of noise intruded on my always troubled sleep.

My eyelids fluttered, seeking the light.  But there was no light. Boom, hiss. One more crack of noise that was, in fact, the house's electrical circuits in distress. Then it was totally dark.

I waited, utterly still, not wanting to accept the fact that the power was really and truly out. I listened to the howl of the wind as it tore through the tops of the bare oaks and maples that surround the house and climb the slopes of the gentle hills of our mountain hollow.

It was an eerie sound, unlike any other.  Not wolf or coyote,-not a train rushing through the intersection of a small isolated town, it was distant but felt immediate, demanding.  It had already claimed my power, my control over my environment.

I do not like the dark. Don't get me wrong, I am not afraid of it.  I do not think that gremlins will come leaping out of the closets or Freddie Fingernail from “Nightmare on Elm Street” will slink up the stairs.  The dark only makes me aware of the illusion I harbor of having control of my surroundings.  Even now, if I reach for the flashlight on my bedside stand, will I knock over the glass of water sitting there?  Will I see the cat or will she trip me up so I crash into the inert lamp and injure one or the other of us?

Tonight there is not a single bit of ambient light.  No moon shines through scudding clouds over the mountaintops.  It is too far from dawn to have the weak shards of light leak under the blinds and around the curtains.  I am not accustomed to the dark. 

Ever since 9/11 no matter how tired I am, when my head hits the pillow I am wide awake.  I no longer pretend that sleep will come and I always have the television on, the volume turned down so it croons and whispers its inane banter into my tired brain, my reading light on over my shoulder and my glasses hugging my brow.  A book rests on my chest ready to read if sleep continues to elude me. 
I resist the mini-death of sleep, afraid not of the dark, but of being "in the dark," of missing something -- anything -- that happens while I am temporarily absent.  I strive to understand but cannot decipher the working of our government no matter how much I read or scan the 24/7 always-on TV news.  I can only read enough to send a pinpoint of light into my awareness of the scary world of fabricating authors and sexual predators.  Steroid use and Judas gospels make me feel stupid and duped.  Hidden paintings in walls and hidden agendas are mysteries and shrouded in the dark recesses of the psyche, not in the darkness of my house. I have about given up thinking that staying awake with the light on will somehow enlighten me.

Thus it is, oddly, not the dark but the silence that is profoundly disturbing.  At first I was glad that the wind had died down but with its death came the silence.  Recently a minor commercial was being filmed at our store and the videographer made us unplug the deli cases, mute the clapper on our cowbell at the door and quiet the fan on the French fry machine; white noise, the background of my existence.  At home, it is the hum of the refrigerator, the buzz of the bulbs in the grow lamps over our house plants.  It is the water pump turning on, the furnace kicking in, the dryer tumbling -- and all the other noises that I cannot name or even identify.  But they are always there.  And now they are not.

Gradually, like feeling your pulse thrumming in your ears in a way that makes you perceive it as a sound, I hear the tick tock of a battery-operated clock that, if there were light, I would be able to see from my place in bed.  I had not known that it made any noise at all.  It was a complete surprise.  If I stay this way long enough, what else will I hear?

There ...  a soft footstep.  Who's there?

Ah, it is only my cat and she scares the bee-geebers out of me as she leaps from the dark onto my chest with a resounding thump.  I cannot tell if it is actually noise or only a tactile sensation so powerful that it feels like sound.

As she settles into the crook of my arm, she begins to purr. I had no idea that her purr was so loud.  If the electricity stays off long enough what other things will I learn? Will there be revelations uncomplicated by the spoken or written word? Will mysteries be solved?  And do I want solutions? Or, like the pursuit of happiness, do I want only the intellectual pleasure of questioning the elusive and complicated?

My cat's internal motor is welcome and gradually relaxes my over-active brain that by now has travelled to all the strange and lonely and exhausting places that only darkness and silence can access

When I awake, the weak morning light is streaming in the window. I have slept in spite of myself.  The power is back on and the house is alive with a cacophony of tiny noises. I have survived my brief visit to the twilight zone of darkness and silence and I have no desire to visit it again anytime soon.

It is too early in the day, too early in the season but my longing for the outdoors and the spring garden is almost physical, a thirst. Like Voltaire's Candide, mysteries are solved there where the process is simple and knowable and uncomplicated by the search for answers in light and sound. Or in the absence of it.

(This blog post is partially my personal experience and partially culled from several conversations I've had about how the frequent power outages in our area effect us.)

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