I think that one of the first times I was up at 3:30 was when I, as a younger man, travelled through time zones. Jet lag had me up at all hours because for me, it wasn't really 3:30 on a Wednesday morning, but 8:47 on the previous Friday, but a year later. Yeah...when I get jet lag, I get it real bad. In college, 3:30 was one of two times -- either it was the tail end of some evening of significance -- be it what my daughter calls a DMC (deep meaningful conversation), a party in a friend's dorm room or a late night trip to the 24-hour 7-11 to replenish the supply of Nerf darts and generic BBQ chips, or it was simply the middle of an all-nighter, inspired by some educational deadline which loomed in the form of a paper's being due or a test which demanded more preparation than daylight hours would afford.
During my time in and after college, I worked a bit in radio. When one first starts a career in radio, one takes the kinds of shifts that those who have "made it" need not take any more. In fact, it was the presence of those people who were up at 3:30 in the morning which reassured me when I found myself at a younger age, tossing and turning, convinced that as I awoke briefly from my sleep that I was the only one alive in the world. Upon joining the ranks of the radio folk, I became that sense of solace to others. Being up at 3:30 meant that I was keeping the world safe for the innocent man's ears, assuring him that there was music being played and commercials being run. 3:30 was smack in the middle of a shift and the deepest, darkest hour. The fewest callers, the least traffic. It wasn't quite 4AM when I had to call the morning show woman to wake her up (her name was Annalisa, and I always felt guilty). It was no longer 3AM when the last denizens of the bars made their drunken requests or the local college kids still called for some pick-me-up conversation while they contended with their own deadlines.
After college and my brief stint as a media darling, the opportunities and reasons for being awake at 3:30 dwindled. Social events as I aged, began to break up a bit earlier and my hours of shut eye became more and more vital and concentrated as I fell into the rut of real life. There was the occasional road trip (ok, it was on only 1 occasion) which required a 3:30 wake up. The unique religious ritual which demanded wakefulness in the middle of the night. But these were, as stated, few and years between.
Kids became another reason to be up. As infants, my children could not read the clock nor listen to reason. Trying to explain to a 6 month old why she should be asleep at 3:30 never quite worked and, for both girls, there were way too many nights when I was up walking, rocking or soothing a child. My wife bore the brunt of this so I can't complain. But somehow, I do anyway. Who's going to stop me? It is now 4:15 and no one in this house is up. The missus (thank you Andy Capp...you have taught me the value of drunkenness, spousal abuse and calling the wife "the missus", all in Sunday comic form) is often still up at 3:30, because apparently pregnant ladies can't read clocks or listen to reason -- this explains their babies' limitations. Education begins at birth.
But now that the girls have sleeping patterns which approach "reasonable" (which means that they let me fall asleep when I want to and I wake them up when I have to) and they are not, thank God, sick often so I don't need to be consoling them in the bathroom through the night while they unburden themselves to the sewer system, 3:30 has returned to the realm of myth. It is there because logic dictates it has to be (or else how could it ever be 3:31) and I know that if I have good reason, I might see it again. But always for good reason.
Except tonight. And I guess that's what makes tonight so frustrating. I realized I was awake at 3:11. It was one of those experiences where you don't clearly remember waking up -- there was no noise or alarm, pressing need to run to the bathroom, or anxiety which prevented sleep. There was just a moment of realization that I was up, and not tired. I tried falling back asleep, knowing that the longer I stayed up, the tired-er I would eventually be during the day. Eventually I gave up. I actually considered going to the 24 hour gym, but I felt that I should not encourage the gym people. They need to learn that there is a right and a wrong time to work out. If I keep them thinking that sweating is appropriate at 3:30 in the morning, how will they ever learn?
3:30 is still that magic, deepest part of the night. My cell phone is asleep, the activity on Facebook has died down because the whole world runs on Eastern Time, even the cops driving in their cars put their sirens on vibrate. And yet, it seems that tonight, the muse has a touch of insomnia and she didn't want to be awake all alone.
It is now approaching 4:25. The early birds are getting ready for that yummy worm breakfast. It will be respectable for me to be awake in an hour and a bit, and all will be right with the world. But I will have a story -- a story of an abbreviated night's sleep. A story of regaining a lost connection with a time of day that we too often sleep through. And a story to dream of when I fall asleep in front of my class in about 12 hours.