I arrived fifteen minutes early for my 8 PM appointment, my overnight bag and my pillow in hand.
I entered the waiting room for the clinic to find a half dozen others, and I know they are all patients as they all have overnight bags with them, and a few, like myself, even have pillows. But of the clinic staff there was no sign. Well, okay, technically there is a sign, of sorts. A note is pasted on the glass above the checkout counter saying a staff member will be with you at about 8PM.
I sit. While we wait the gathered talk, comparing medical histories and discussed the weather, and four others soon joined us in quick succession.
At about ten after eight, a young woman with two clipboards in her hand opens the rear clinic door and calls out two names, then shortly after that another young lady appears and calls out two more.
After a bit another young lady, diminutive slight thing with short very dark hair comes to the door and softly calls my name.
As she leads me further back into the clinic, I can not help but find myself thinking of Mia Farrow, only this young attractive woman, with a demure smile and a hint of blush on her cheeks, tells me her name is Chastity. She is a waif of a girl, child like, and she makes me think of the fairy Tinkerbell, but with dark brunette hair.
She is openly pleasant and cheerful and we have an enjoyable conversation interspaced between her canned explanations of why she was hooking up this wire or that wire to my body. I ask many questions, but not about the procedure or the wires. She happily answers them. She is married, has two kids a boy age 4 and a daughter age 2. She works at the clinic three nights a week, pulling twelve hour shifts. She doesn’t mind working all night long as she is a night person and loves the dark and night sky. She says this as she kneels on the floor before me, attaching electrodes to my feet, and as she rises I can see it in her face, a certain rapture, and a certain element of the darkness of the night. Sometimes you can see it in people, the ones who truly love the night. It isn’t the pale skin of those not in the sun overly much, but something else, there is often a sense, and air of inner coolness to them, a coolness and a passionate inner stillness that whispers of silver moonlight and the feel of the air in the hours just before dawn. She has it in spades, I see it in her so clearly and I tell her so. She looks at me and nods in understanding, her eyes flashing joy and she blushes again, then she asks me what exactly it is I see. I tell her she looks as if she has the soul of the night about her, and the love of it.
Her eyes never leave mine, she smiles and nods again. “Yes! I do love the night! I have always lived in the night, ever since I was a child,” she told me, “- And all the jobs I have ever worked, beginning with my first job at age thirteen, have always been night jobs! I cannot imagine anything better.”
I smiled back at her, “I am a night person too, in many ways.” I tell her. “And there is something special about having been awake all night and then watching the sunrise.”
To which she responds, “Yes, but for me, sunrises though pretty, are sad, it means the night is done, and that I must go to bed.”
I asked her if her working nights was difficult where the children were concerned, who takes care of them during the day?
She told me her husband did, that he was currently unemployed but was taking on-line classes during the day. She said that the children used to go to a day care center, but that since her husband lost his job… She bit her lip, frowned and fell silent.
I stopped asking personal questions.
All wired up I took a sleeping pill and was soon asleep. I woke only once to use the bathroom, and the next thing I knew, there was Chastity’s sweet call for me to awaken.
Then there was again that odd intimacy as she leaned close as if an old an familiar lover, to disconnect all those wires and gently clean the adhesive from my skin. Once she finished, I dressed and left. But before I left I had to fill out an opinion form which asked me various questions about my impressions of my stay. Where it asked the question, “What was the most pleasant aspect of your stay with us?” I answered, “Meeting the staff.”
It was 5:40 and still pitch dark as I stepped outside the clinic and walked to my car. As I drove back across town, the first light of dawn appeared. I stopped at our local Waffle House, intent on rewarding myself with a Pecan Waffle.
There were two other gentlemen sitting at the counter eating their breakfast when I came in, and I joined them at the counter. A heavyset young woman with a bad pronounced limp came over and asked me if I knew what I wanted. “Pecan Waffle and coffee,” I told her. She nodded and poured me my cup then turned to make the waffle. She was the shops only employee.
Then she turned to me and holding up a mixture pitcher said, “We only got Buttermilk, is that okay?”
“Sure” I said, “go ahead”.
She poured the batter onto the waffle iron.
As she did the man next to me asked her, “You still working seventy hours a week? You still holding down two jobs?”
She turned to him, wiping her hands on a towel, “More, more than seventy, this last week it was seventy-seven!”
The man shook his head, “I don’t know how you do it, I couldn’t.”
“Well, the bills got to be paid, - bills got to be paid.” She paused and frowned, “You know, we got a young man works here, part time, only a couple of days a week, and he complains about having to work a full eight hour shift those days. He never notices I’m here hours before he gets here, or that I’m here hours after he leaves. And all he does is gripe about what a pain having to work a full day is.” She shakes her head and turns back to cleaning the counter behind her.
Minutes later she turns to plate my waffle and stifles and exclamation as she does, then turns to me, “Honey, I forgot to put your pecans in! I’ll make you another one.”
“No, just give me that one.”
“Yes. It’s fine.”
Se sets the plate down in front of me. The waffle looks funny. I take the first bite, and then realize, it is a waffle made using the Buttermilk pancake batter. The waffle is flat and tastes like a pancake.
I eat it anyway. I drink my coffee.
She looks over at me and sees I’m finished and she nods, ”Aw, just go on honey, no need to pay, It’s my mistake, it’s on me.”
I insist on paying. She reluctantly accepts my money. She hands me my change and I put two bucks on the counter next to my plate and begin to walk out. As I am pushing the door open she calls out, “Have a good day sir! You have a real good day hear?” I turn back to look at her and smile, “Thanks! You too!” and I leave.
To the east, the sky above Green Mountain is blazing in the Technicolor glory of the sunrise, but old sol has yet to crest the mountain top. I pause by my car to look at it. It has been too long since seeing my last sunrise. I take a deep breath of the cool morning air, full of the baking sweetness that surrounds the Waffle House, I exhale slowly thinking about the limping woman inside who holds down two jobs just to get by, I think of sweet Chastity back at the clinic just wrapping up her twelve hour working “day” and who will go home and only briefly get to see her own children before she has to go to bed and sleep, and I think about how her husband must feel, laid off and unable to find work.
I sigh and climb into my car and head home. Natha is staying with a friend and is still sleeping. She will call me when she is ready to come home, but that will not be for hours yet.
It will not be for days yet till I get the follow-up visit with the doctor to find out the results of my sleep-over test, but I am not worried. I slept well and hard, thanks to that sleeping pill, and I know if the test showed anything serious, they will call me today or tomorrow. I think maybe they will tell me I am a marginal case. One that could possibly befit from the breathing machines like the one Natha uses, or the continued use of an oxygen concentrator like the one I have already been using, but that I could probably get along okay with out it. I will be surprised if they tell me anything else. We shall see.
In any case, I am thankful, thankful I do not have two small children and am unable to find a job, thankful my own wife does not have to work through the nights in twelve hour shifts to keep food on the table and a roof overhead, thankful I do not have an injured foot and have to work nearly eighty hours a week at jobs that keep me constantly on my feet. I may have a sleep problem, I may have Fibromyagia, I may be overweight and growing older, but I have so much else to be thankful for.
What I do have is that I have reached the place where I no longer have to struggle every waking moment, just to get by.
And I know, that with the economy going the way it has, and likely to continue so, that the weigh of this recession is hitting those like Chastity and that lady in the Waffle House, so much harder than it has hurt me.
And there is not much I can see to do about it.
And so it goes.