Something is wrong.
It’s a bad omen when it’s pitch dark and I awaken in bed. Don’t look at the watch, don’t look at the watch–I look at the watch. 4:30a.m. Not good. Why did I look at the watch? Now I’m thinking… Don’t think! Thinking keeps you awake! Try to remember what you were just dreaming…hmm,…something about a fire storm. No, that’s no good. Scary dream. Probably why I just woke up. Still thinking, “really have to stop thinking…”
That was hours ago when my ordeal was just beginning.
I tried everything to get back to sleep with a restless wife battling a similar challenge. I might have succeeded if it weren’t for the fact that I started hearing sounds in our dark bedroom. Adrenaline flowed. Super Defender Man began listening intently to all the sounds of the night, piecing out the ones out of place. I could have sworn I heard our metal door handle, but maybe I was imagining it. The notes were obscured by 2 fans still blowing the hot summer out of the room in September. Couldn’t tell for certain, but a second sound came out of the darkness that I tentatively identified as a floor creak.
That alone would freak out most people, but we have a creaky floor in our bedroom that snaps and complains even when no one is up there. When we first bought the house, it used to startle me awake at night. We simply had to accept that our upstairs bedroom, for no reason, sounded like a portly gent with loud, popping joints when he kneeled. Shy of chiropractic work, I’m not sure what could be done to heal it. My wife sleeps with earplugs, so the cacophony doesn’t seem to bother her. Mostly I’m used to it and have trained myself to sleep through the benign explosions.
There was something different about this night’s noise. I was not falling back to sleep any time soon.
I don’t know if this is a male thing, or just my protector/defender thing, but I run through scenarios in my head all the time with triggers like this. I hear a sound and immediately look for the nearest weapon. Maybe I’ve seen too much TV, but if someone was in the bedroom, I did not want to be lying down. I raised my head slightly from the pillow to listen as intently as I could. Battling sleep filled eyes, I tried to focus in the dark. There was a tiny glow coming through a bijou window to the downstairs where a stove light stayed on all night. My mind painted scenarios of what I might do if a silhouette broke that screen. Yell, confront, attack, or observe? Even with the adrenaline, my mind was still closer to sleep than awake. That would explain the next image that popped into my brain: maybe there were black ops guys in the room on a mission! [We don’t ask for this imagination, it just shows up uninvited on most occasions...] If there was a black ops guy in the room, I was probably (most assuredly) out matched. There would be more than one and they’d have night vision goggles and plenty of protective gear. Still lying in bed working this out, I resolved to simply surrender if that was the case. With any luck, they probably had the wrong house or it was something I could explain away in the light of day. Seriously? Am I really thinking Navy Seals are in the bedroom? How ridiculous is that?! Besides, such an operation would be expensive and I’m sure no one in my family would be a high value target.
Except our little dog, perhaps.
We’re not entirely certain of her background (she was a rescue) and she acts like a little terrorist towards all mammals, oviparous animals, and insects that trespass on her property. Don’t think about the dog, I scolded myself. Except that the dog never barked downstairs which might lead credence to an air assault with a rooftop landing. Hmm…
I quietly slipped out of bed and onto my feet remembering a baseball bat in the room. Odds are it’s nothing, just my unsolicited imagination. I rose from the floor in silent slow motion like an actor playing a cop on TV. As I rose like a TV cop, I wished I had thought to rise like a ninja. Ninja’s were better at this kind of thing and they had better knees than I. I did everything I could to move slowly and quietly, but both knees, a left ankle and some other unidentified body part chose this moment crack loudly. I’m sure if I did more yoga or stretched this wouldn’t happen. I’m really bad about remembering to stretch and my wife scolds me about this. Why didn’t I listen to her and stretch last night? Now, with the element of surprise ruined, I’ll probably die in hand to hand combat because it’s impossible for me to move silently in the dark. The scenario of surrendering to a Navy Seal looked more appealing.
After 3 steps, the snap, crackle, pops of my body resoundingly announced the advance of a middle aged man in his underwear. I also could see now that the bedroom door was open about 10 inches or so. And then I heard the unmistakeable sound of something, or someone about 6 feet away from me. Adrenaline surged like a shot of awful tasting hard liquor.
“Pops? Are you awake yet?”
Oh, sweet Buddha! It’s my 9 year old son who continues, “I’m on the floor a little to your right.”
My black ops imagination is not looking so crazy now, is it?
“What are you doing?!”, I stage whispered.
“Just wanted to see if you were awake, sweet Papa. Time for cuddles?”
“Well, sure,… I mean No,… I mean yes, but let’s go downstairs where we won’t wake Mama.”
On cue she wakes and says through earplugs, “IS THAT YOU, SWEETIE? WHO’S THERE? IS THAT THE BOY?!’
“We’re okay sweetie, just me and the boy.”
“WE’RE OKAY, JUST ME AND THE BOY!,” I shout back.
“WHAT TIME IS IT?”
“Way too early, go back to bed,” I answered.
“TOO EARLY! FOUR SOMETHING! GO BACK TO SLEEP!”
“Okay. Love you guys.”
My 9 year old Navy Seal hugs me and we leave the bedroom and go downstairs as quietly as we can, closing the bedroom door behind us. We stop in front of a window where he suggests we look at the stars. I’m confused and touched at the same time due to the mixture of sleep and adrenaline moving through my veins. He’s being so sweet. He must feel badly about waking me. I stagger on stiff, groggy muscles towards the oasis of our coffee making station with the boy hugging my torso. I love how sweet and affectionate he’s being, but it’s still slightly out of character.
“I love you, Pops.”
“Well, me too,” I say cashing in on another unhurried hug. “You know you totally scared the BeJeezus out of me, right?”
“Why were you in our bedroom before 5am?”
“Just wanted to know if you were awake?”
“Why would I be awake at that time of the morning?”
“I don’t know.”
I let it go and got another really demonstrative hug while I waited for the kettle to boil.
“Can I tell you the truth?”
“I sure hope so. What’s up?”
“Well, I wanted you to know that I was up in the bedroom looking for my Kindle.”
“Ohhhhhh….” Yes, that would make more sense. “Is that why you were crawling on the floor?”
“I was trying to find its hiding place when I heard you get up.”
“Do I get credit for telling the truth?”
“Of course you do. Thank you for telling the truth. It makes a lot more sense than you coming up in the middle of the night to see if I was awake.”
“No, I mean do I get credit? Like extra screen time?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that kind of thing because you did wake the heck out of me this morning. Do you think there should be a reward for that because you confessed the real reason was criminal activity?”
“Well, it wasn’t really ‘criminal,’ just a rule.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I do.” Pause. ”Pops?”
“Did I mention how much I love you?”
“Yes you did and feeling is mutual.”
I get another long repentant hug and then he retreats to his room to find a book as the kettle has boiled and coffee is closer to being consumed.