Mia has a complex relationship with the Night. She’s a creature of it – active and creative – and stays awake well into it (later than most in the house), yet also seems determined to shun it with the use of every light available.
And when Night finally acquiesces to Sleep, it does so half-heartedly with Mia, often leaving her restless and wandering between this world and slumber’s.
Rare is the night she goes to bed before me, so lying quietly in our shared bedroom, I’ve listened and become well acquainted with her almost nightly routine.
With the rest of the house long dark and quiet, it begins.
On go the back staircase lights, and then, footsteps – Mia’s – coming up the old, wooden staircase. Her movement, quick and skittish. Around the corner she scurries, to the main hall and –
Her target, two doors down, is illuminated.
Muffled by a thick, carpet runner, I know Mia reaches our door only when she flicks the switch, re-illuminating our brightly patterned wallpaper of orange, green and yellow flowers.
After making as much noise as possible (slamming drawers and sliding closet doors, testing her alarm clock, etc.) does she slip beneath her covers, leaving every light on her path from family room to bedroom, burning bright.
Just as dependable as this, is the dialogue which follows.
“Mia, turn off the lights.”
“You turn them off.”
“You were the last one in bed! AND YOU were the one who turned them on in the first place!”
“So? So, it’s only fair that you turn them off.”
“Dang it, Mia, you know I can’t sleep with the lights on!”
Well-stashed below her covers, “Too bad,” comes her muffled reply. “I can sleep just fine with them on.”
I always claim I’ll do the same, but in less than a minute, with the lights searing wholes through my eyelids, I climb from bed and shuffle just outside our door.
Off the hall and staircase lights go.
Off our bedroom lights go.
“Brat,” I call through the dark, as I feel my way back to my bed at the other end of the room.
It’s gone on like this for years.
But now Chris is off to college and Mia’s been given her own room, and I can’t wait. Not only because I’m anxious to have my independence, but even more, I’m anxious to see how Mia will handle hers.
However, she keeps delaying the move, bringing her things into her new bedroom next door one article at a time – over days, which is now turning into weeks. I offer to help. She gets offended and disappears. Mom finally has to intervene.
Begrudgingly, Mia throws the last of her belongings into the heap already in the center of her new bedroom and, tonight, faces sleeping on her own for the first time in her life.
I lay in my darkened room and wait for the familiar sounds of Mia making her way upstairs, speculating over and over again how she’ll handle the lights with no one in the next bed to do it for her. Will she leave them on all night? Doubtful. Dad has a sixth sense about these things and will be demanding “Lights out!” before long. Will she have the gall to call through the walls for me to do it?
She wouldn’t dare….or would she?…
On go the back staircase lights. Creak, go the steps.
On go the hallway lights.
On go Mia’s bedroom lights.
I listen carefully. Tracking her footsteps. Picturing her every move. Anticipating her thoughts.
Off goes the stair and hall lights from below, as Mom calls “Sweet dreams.” and Dad warns “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Minutes later, there’s only one light left on in the entire house.
“Come on, Mia,” I whisper into my pillow. “How’s it gonna be?”
Then it happens.
Off goes the light.
And that’s the way it will be from this day forward. Night after night.
It’s a sound that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Mia running from light switch to bed. Fleeing the unknowns of the night.
Racing the dark.