“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Early Riser

My bedtime until I was about fifteen was ridiculously early--like, 7:30 pm early.  I was always terribly embarrassed both by the early bedtime and by the powerful hold my parents had over me.  How did other kids manage to be so willful and in control at home?  My parents had perfected the art of The Look, and any time one of those was shot my way I was putty in their hands.  So unfair.

I do try to be so scary to my own children.  Totally works on Joey.  Nothing on Noah.

The early bedtime had its advantages, though.  For one thing, it trained me to have the ability to go to bed in any degree of light.  Those July nights when the neighbors were still running free outside my open windows, shrieking and enjoying TWO MORE HOURS OF SUNSHINE, really conditioned me to sleep through anything.

It also led to me being a naturally early riser.  Don't confuse this with being a Morning Person, because they're not the same thing.  My sister Jane is a Morning Person.  This was a major problem when we shared a bedroom and she'd hum and sing and turn on every lamp in the room to add to her horrible cheeriness.  I prefer dim lighting, total silence, and staring.

My brother and sister never suffered through the Insanely Early Bedtime.  I have no idea why this is.  As long as I can remember, they stayed up late watching TV with my parents.  They would all even PLAN their evening in front of me at the dinner table.  "What's on tonight?"  "Oh, that show WE ALL LOVE!" "I can't wait!  It'll be so great!"  Once, they ordered pizza.  That might be the one and only time I busted out of my room and rioted.  (My mom found me peeking around the corner into the family room, waiting to be noticed and invited.)

Because Janie and Pauly never had to had to go to bed early, it did follow that they didn't wake as early as I did, either.  When I was six years old, I was allowed to go downstairs by myself when I woke up.  It was usually just before six o'clock, and my guess is that it was easier on everyone if I was sent as far away from the sleepers as possible.

I still vividly remember my routine.  I'd wake up, and go down the stairs as quietly as possible.  It wasn't because I worried about waking anybody.  I was far more concerned about potential intruders/robbers/kidnappers/murderers lurking below.  At the bottom of the stairs, I'd round the corner into the total darkness of the dining room.  The darkness terrified me, so I'd give myself up.  I flipped on the lights, and called out, "If there's anyone there, please come out now!" because I imagined our burglars would be decent and gracious and would definitely step out before me, hands in the air, saying, "Okay, okay.  You got me, little girl.  I'll go home now."

Then I'd turn up the thermostat, something my dad had taught me to do when he realized the advantage of having someone downstairs at least two hours before him.  I warmed up the house for him (apparently, my smile wasn't enough).

But here is the best part.  I'd end up in the family room.  I'd turn on no lights at all, and the entire house was silent but for the ticking of my father's mantel clock (I've grown so accustomed to this clock I no longer hear it, even when it's noon and it dings twelve times).  I'd seat myself in front of the best thing in my whole house, something most kids my age didn't even have.  The computer.

It was an Apple II C.  It was tan, and unlike many of the school computers I'd used, it didn't have a green screen.  In fact, when I put in my floppy disk to start up my favorite program, the screen went pitch black, and then lit up with white letters:  AppleWorks.

At age six, I'd taught myself how to use our word processor so I could write stories at 6 am.  Yes.  It's true.  I've always been a dork.

At first, my stories were pretty basic, quite short, and my vocabulary was limited because I was six and couldn't spell too many words.  But the more I did this--and it became regular pretty fast--the more words I was able to spell.  Sometimes, I would wait for my dad to come downstairs at 8, and he would go through and help me fix my spelling.  And unlike the children of today, I actually remembered how to spell those words the next time I used them.

By the time I was ten, I was typing over 65 words per minute.  I know because we had a program that told us.  I didn't--and still can't--use the proper keys with the proper fingers, but my mind knew where every letter was and my hands flew over the keyboard, clickety-clacketing the unfolding stories in my imagination.  I was stranded on an island.  I was on a discovered pirate ship.  I was rich.  I was poor.  I was an orphan.  Once, I was even Julia Roberts' niece.

With the entire room dark around me and the screen background inky black, the white words that appeared before me glowed beautifully.  It was complete magic to have all my dreams and wishes float in front of me that way in the silence of my house, without my brother teasing me or my sister and mom talking loudly in the kitchen.  Without my dad turning the volume up on the TV ALL THE WAY (seriously, who does that??).  It was just me, my tapping fingers, and my words.

The other night I was at my mom's for dinner.  Just before my mom set the food on the table, my dad looked up from his perusal of the daily mail and said, "Where's Joey?"

"In here, Grandpa!" he called from the next room.

"What're you doing in there?" my dad asked.

Joey rolled into the doorway on my mom's computer chair and said, "I'm writing a story.  Wanna see?"

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