June 4, 2013

After hours

A morning person hopes to understand the darkness of the night.

Most days I rise with the sun. I never thought it would become a part of my routine here in college. The relentless alarms of my high school years haunted even the deepest of my slumbers, and I dreaded every morning when I would watch the first rays of light emerge on my road to school. I thought I would be done when I stepped on this campus.

Yet over a decade of early rising has altered my circadian rhythm quite permanently, and by my third week of classes here, I had gravitated toward a regular interruption to my 7 a.m. dreams.

To my own surprise, I am a morning person.

There are few of us larks here on campus—I can recognize most of the ones who live in Pierce. While the majority of the student body operates on caffeinated wakefulness during the day so that it can thrive on adrenaline at night, we morning people willingly wake up while the local news is still broadcasting. We rarely talk to each other, instead keeping to our own while sharing the secrets of the morning. The school is abandoned—not in the eerie, zombie-apocalyptic way, but rather in the way someone at the Reg will drift off to sleep while trying to finish an incredibly boring reading—unguarded. We share this sleeping dorm and its unmoved certainty, guaranteed with each bowl we scoop full of oatmeal.

My tendency to wake up early comes with the caveat of a relatively early bedtime. Even when I do stay up, I rarely talk to others, instead retreating to the confines of my room. So every time I catch the vignette of a long UChicago night, I am surprised to discover the late hours to be loaded, burdened by the crumbling facades of the still-awake.

In all of its silent melancholia, the 4 a.m. hum of Harper is something I hope I will never experience again. By no means was my first encounter with Quad sunrises planned; one procrastination method led to another and by 8 p.m. Sunday I had confined myself to a library chair, my wooden prison at the end of an incriminating weekend. A finished paper would be my bail.

I wrote through the night, remaining stationary as the chatter faded into shuffles, shuffles into echoes, echoes into the present—charged, monotonous, with a pitch deep enough to make me wonder whether it was present all along, underneath the papershuffle and covert whispers of daylight. As I toiled on, a post-midnight somberness revealed itself in the things I trusted most to remain certain: Admitting defeat, someone curled into an armchair, clenched in the fetal position, his body contorted to the confines of the lumpy chair. Another paced the walkway of the reading room, relying on the lilt of his steps to keep himself awake. The night was numb—but in a prickly way, like a sleeping foot.

The sunrise the following morning snuck up on me, and with it returned the veil of mundanity. That was my first all-nighter.

Later that quarter, I sat in my house lounge talking with a friend, our chatter contributing to the buzz of a Saturday evening. The lounge is windowless, eternally daylit. Yet, the hum that haunted my first all-nighter trickled in as the midnight bustle began its denouement into darkness. There it was again: the somber moan, potent exclusively to the sober.

We ended up eating a box of Trix with a guy who lives a few doors down. He was drunk. Funneling the cereal into his mouth in a grotesquely cartoonish way, he had mastered a chew, swallow routine: Crunchcrunchcrunch—pause—crunchcrunchcrunch.

A relentless cadence.

I realized that, before this moment, I had never really noticed him—his thin frame bent to receive the cereal, lanky arms fumbling to catch fallen pieces. He was surprisingly clumsy, vulnerable. Had I not already succumbed to the autopilot that shields my consciousness, I would have folded as well, joining him in his crooked disposition.

The ghosts of daytime sadness do not bury themselves in the soil of the sunset. Sure, they lay dormant when we go out with friends and when we’re alone, the voice of the radio talk show host crooning into the humidity. But they are really Harper’s deep hum: omnipresent, hidden among sorority gossip and academic musings, the clatter of wooden chairs and the thuds of finally closed chemistry textbooks.

One morning my roommate and I were standing at our respective closets getting ready for the day. She had gone to bed a mere three hours before.

“You know, my favorite time to talk to people is around 5 a.m., when there’s not much to lose, and a lot to gain. People really give a shit that late at night.”

Dabbing perfume onto my wrists, I wondered what other forms of darkness I forgo for the pleasantry of my peaceful mornings.

Kristin Lin is first-year in the College.