With the same inevitability with which sea levels will rise, I wake every night from my drug-addled sleep to pee. I turn onto my right elbow, push myself up with my right hand, sit on the bed’s edge, take two measured breaths, lean my weight on the right leg to slowly reach vertical, lean backwards while rotating to the left to bring my pelvis into equilibrium, turn ninety degrees to my right, reach for the door handle, and open the door. I step into the hallway with my right leg and stride with my left, then my right, leaning to the right.
Nighttime stairhead crossings are risky business. When Kennedy was president, I heard my father scream into the night. I tore into the hallway as he raced to his mother, 87, who had risen to pee, tripped over the dog, and lay at the bottom of the stairs, twisted.
I take three more strides, starting with my left, until I reach an inch-high molding. I curve my left foot over the molding and push off while turning sixty degrees to the right. I then take three strides, stop, do what I came for, turn around, and reverse the process to return to the edge of the bed, throw my legs up onto it, roll over, and play dead.
Except, I can’t find the bed.
Instead, I smack into a wall. I palpate it and knock my hand into a picture frame, metal. I straighten it gently, fearing its crashing onto my feet.
My fingers creep into a bookshelf. Soft things piled at its base impede my progress. I sweep a few trinkets onto the floor. Not a ping!
I know there’s a bookshelf on the far side of my bed—that gives me hope because if I’m holding onto that bookshelf, I could fall backwards onto my bed, but no bed presses against the backs of my legs. Anyway, how could I have reached the bookshelf without first encountering the bed?
Beyond the bookshelf, my hands encounter a door-less closet. When I pass my fingers over clothes draped on hangers, they clack like an out-of-tune wind chime. What’s a closet doing next to the bookshelf? If the bookshelf belongs there, the closet should be diagonally across the room.
I kick the piled soft things away to re-trace my steps. I encounter something hard, stumble. I turn around to appraise the room’s topography. Diagonally across the room, there’s a window on the left far wall, and another on the right, just as there should be. But something that shouldn’t be there obstructs my view of the left window.
I walk toward that window and push through more piles of soft things. I slam into a waist-high barrier, soft like polished leather. If it’s a chair, I can make myself comfortable there until sunrise. I reach down and find a book already resting there. I respect first dibs and opt to find my own place of rest. The chair swivels, as expected.
I try moving diagonally toward where that picture hung, hoping there’s still a door nearby. I walk into more heaps of soft things, then stacks of hard-edged things that cut, slip, crash. Should I call out, “Help, I’m lost!?” What would anyone think of me if they knew I got lost inside a dark bedroom?
If only I could find any soft, flat surface, I could lay me down and fall asleep until sunrise, then escape unseen. Can I be so sure the sun’s going to rise?
I keep pushing through the relentless piles, moving more laterally than forward. Then the piles end and I break free. I encounter a wall, knock, and hear hollowness. I feel up the wall to find a handle. I turn it, the door swings in, and I step out into the hallway. Even in the dark, I can see there’s no risk of falling downstairs as I’m peering over a bannister.
I calculate I’ve overshot my room and entered the next room down, where there’s no bed, only the stuff my son left behind.
I take four strides back to my own room, turn right, open the door, feel around on my left to confirm there’s a bed, turn ninety degrees, sit, throw my legs up, roll over, and play dead. Perhaps I need to buy a nightlight. Maybe the ghost dog that sleeps on the stairhead needs to go. I’ll think about the rest in the morning.