Usually, I wake up before she does. Sometimes she has some trouble sleeping. I see signs of her predawn ramblings in the kitchen, an empty coffee mug, a plate with some cracker crumbs, a spoon beside the sugar bowl. She seldom eats cereal during the day, usually at night. I’ve never asked why. Sometimes she falls asleep with the television set still on. Sometimes the remote control is right by her hand, or lost under the blankets and pillows. Once in a while she falls asleep on the couch or in her easy chair. I walk around the bed and turn off the television set. Or I help her from the couch and shuffle off to our bed. Usually she says something. Usually I can’t understand it. She never remembers later. Sometimes after I’ve turned out the light, I watch her sleep. I guess we all do, all us mated folks anyway. Although we don’t talk about it much. We watch the other one sleep. So familiar and so alien. That other. So curious. I look at her face, trying to see it for the first time, trying to remember what it looked like before I knew what it looked like. I try to compare it to the face I knew from photographs taken years ago, see how it’s changed. There’s a certain deep wonder. What does she really look like? She has merged so far into my heart that often I’m not sure I could describe her. There are times when I meet her, out in public, that I don’t quite recognize her when I first see her. Yet her beauty always strikes me and I always find her smile incredible. It’s early as I write this, out on the front porch overlooking the morning garden beneath the oak and redwood trees. She’s still in the bedroom asleep. Writing this makes me want to go back into the bedroom and look at her again, but I’m afraid I’ll wake her. There was a water glass in the sink when I went into the kitchen to make coffee. I know she was up last night. Sometimes when I look at her sleeping, I wonder if she’s dreaming. I wonder if I am. I used to watch my children sleep. I think everyone does that. They’re easy to sentimentalize when they’re asleep, so innocent, so undemanding, so quiet. And lovely, of course — that thought is, I have been told, hard-wired into our brains. Nature has made us believe that all children are lovely, so we will have another reason to protect them. When we get older, we get lose our “cute baby” or “charming toddler” looks. Nature doesn’t want us protected so much. And the act of sleeping with someone else in the room is a gesture of trust, a gift. A sleeping child, one thinks, is a child who feels safe. You want your children to feel safe. You’re happy when they sleep peacefully. At times I have watched my now-adult children sleep, on trips or what not. I know that our relationship is different now, but in that little moment I can enjoy the luxury of slipping back into the old ways. Father watching over child. They can decide for themselves where to live and whom to marry. I can still watch them sleep, albeit on rarer occasion. But, mostly now, I watch her sleep. Sometimes I try to animate her face, like a cartoon. I try to remember her laughing. And, then, try in my mind to make that face I see on the pillow change into the laughing face I remember. I’m interested in how her muscles work, I guess. I’m interested in how her moods animate her. Her face is generally calm when she sleeps, although there are small explosions of emotion. She frowns, moves her lips, mutters, smiles, sometimes opens her mouth. Every time I watch her sleep is another tick of the clock. Another drop in the bucket. We have come this far together. I think we have made it through to this morning still more in love than not. Still happy to be in each other’s company. Still paying attention. Like sleep itself, a daily miracle.
One sleeps. The other doesn’t.