It’s the middle of the night. Last time I looked at the digital clock on my nightstand, it said “2:44” and that seems like hours ago. I’m laying on my back with the blanket balled up beneath my chin and my eyes closed, hoping that somehow, someway, sleep will take me. I know in my gut that it won’t, but I try anyway.
I do this more often than not—lay awake at night hoping for sleep typically without success. It’s a common thing for us to do, to have our minds flooded with fragments of every small memory, distant worry, running checklist, and distracting thought the second our heads hit the pillow: I know this because I see enough of my friends post memes about busy-minded insomnia to know I’m not alone. But damn, if it isn’t exhausting. I sigh, roll over into a fetal position, and open my eyes to see that it’s 3:30 now. One of my dogs must sense my movement because from across the room, I hear the tinkling of a collar.
At this point, the bed is no longer comfortable and the silence and darkness have become a perfect and chaotic breeding ground for toxic thoughts to pour from the pockets of insecurities that I carry around, so I slide out from under the blankets. It’s cold out here. Draped over the dresser is my flannel shirt which I grab and wrap myself in as I head into the living room. Tucker, the dog with the tinkling collar, follows me.
The floor glows blue in stretched out moonlight and is cold under my feet. I sit in my favorite spot on the couch and pull a throw blanket over myself. This side of the couch—my preferred side—is a perfect looking spot next to a window that faces the barn where my three donkeys are snuggled in, hopefully nuzzled together and not busy-minded like me. The thought of their thoughts makes me smile. Last week, my vet came out to perform Bodhi’s castration and as he was waking from his sedative, the vet told me he often wonders if donkeys dream. “They’re so smart, you know,” he told me in his gruff, East-Texas accent, “and I’m just curious what they must dream about. Surely they do.” I adored my vet before this comment but when he said that, my admiration for him leveled up. He gets donkeys. He wonders about their dreams.
He, my vet, was there the day Tink died. It was a Saturday afternoon and we had to call him out in an emergency. He was there within 20 minutes of our call and stayed until we said our final goodbye. At the time, I didn’t know him very well, but he hugged me tight when I crumbled and began to weep. I left smudged mascara marks on his brown vest. I think about that often.
The barn is blue in the moonlight and above it, a perfectly clear, cold sky twinkles with a few, bright stars. It’s been dropping down to the 20’s at night which for us here in Texas is brutal. The throw blanket tugs and I break my gaze with the barn to see Tucker nosing the blanket. Tucker will be 10 this year and for at least the past 6 years, he finds his way to me every single time I sit in my spot on the couch with a throw blanket and my legs curled up beneath me. I adjust myself and lift the blanket, allowing him to hop up and curl into a perfect dog ball next to my legs. I cover him with the blanket and he sighs. This is our assumed position.
I stroke the shape of Tucker’s back and look back to the barn. Bodhi’s recovering beautifully from his castration. I’ve seen many donkeys castrated and it’s never phased me a bit, but seeing your own baby who you used to bottle feed under the knife like that is a whole other story. He’s a little fighter though, our orphaned donkey who tried to steal the Christmas tree. He’s already back to his same, silly shenanigans.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear a dog bark. Tucker tenses and from under the blanket, the shape of his ears perk. “Shhh,” I say to him, stroking his head, “it’s okay.” He sighs again and relaxes.
But is it? Is it okay? Who am I to know? Maybe a dog is barking because someone’s house is getting robbed somewhere. Or maybe someone has abandoned their dog and he or she is terrified and calling out for rescue. Or maybe that dog heard another dog who heard another dog and the bark chain actually started out in Louisiana somewhere because a tree fell down in someone’s backyard. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s okay.
I wonder if my vet was able to get the mascara smudges off of his brown vest? I haven’t been able to work up the nerve to ask him or to offer to buy him a new vest if he wasn’t able to get the stains out. I mean, in my experience, mascara comes out of clothes pretty easily, but what if? How can I know and why am I afraid to ask? And how is it that we can exist on the cellular level and a cosmic level all at the same time? Our cells are constantly regenerating and our imaginations can wander anywhere in the known (or unknown) universe. Isn’t that wild? How infinite we are? And so how, in our vastness, can insecurities about trivial things travel around with us everywhere we go? Why does it matter? Who cares about what other people think and why am I still worrying about a conversation that went badly with an old friend a decade ago?
Tucker sighs again and I realize my whole body has become tense. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I hold it there for a few seconds, then sigh it out. I do this again, breathe in all the way, hold it, and let it go. I do this over and over and over until it’s quiet…until my muscles relax over my bones like jelly. Mascara does come out of clothes. I know this. And sometimes, dogs bark for no reason and conversations go badly. It just happens. That’s okay.
The clock above the mantle says it’s nearly 4:30am and so I figure I ought to go ahead and get my day started. I pat Tucker on the rump, grab my coat and boots, and head out in the cold morning to feed the donkeys and muck their stalls. The moon is bright behind the trees leaving everything a glowing blue.
I breathe in deep, the air cold in my gut, and sigh it out in a small cloud that floats away towards the few stars competing with the moon’s gaze. Cosmic, indeed.