I’m becoming well-acquainted with the earliest hours of the morning, when the day is still inky black and thick with sleep. A 7am appointment on the other side of LA. A 5am drive to the airport. This week I write over dinner and read myself to sleep before ten o’clock. On the coldest morning I’m in boots and a hat and a long camel coat and still I think, how mild it is
, this Los Angeles autumn. I walk down the street fresh from my bed and everything is quiet and slicked with rain.
Midweek I sit in my car in the midst of Beverly Hills, waiting. The street is empty, nothing awake yet. All the fancy shops are closed and their neon signs glow dimly like an early breath of sunrise. I go to buy a coffee before the coffee has even been brewed. I wait with my empty cup. I lean against my car and the morning is heavy and wet against my skin. A father and daughter race by quickly, out with their dog for an early morning run. I watch their even pace until they disappear around a corner. I wait. A few moments later a doctor walks by in scrubs with a cellphone held close to his ear. I’m an active guy, you see, I need to know what this can do for me… his voice trails off or I stop listening, it doesn’t really matter which. And just like that, the street is empty again. I turn my head up towards the buildings, their concrete bodies stretching up and up and up.
For some reason I keep thinking about the father and daughter and their dog. I keep thinking about the bright-eyed discipline of early morning exercise—a run through the sanitized streets of Beverly Hills, passing the department stores and fertility clinics before you’ve even had your morning coffee. Before the sun is even awake.
I’m still thinking about them hours later and in an entirely different part of the city. I’m thinking about the daughter and how old she must be—sixteen? Seventeen? I wonder how long she and her father have been running like that together and if she hates it. Or relishes the time with him? I think of one of my friends growing up, the runner, and how she’d come back from a race with her lean limbs and fresh skin and all around her there was an unsquelchable air of having conquered the world. Not smug or self-righteous but simply… satisfied. Her whole family was like that—they were all beautiful and polite and they ran or swam or played tennis with an urgency akin to religious fervor. It was a buzzing, a hum, a palpable energy that distinguished them from the dusty-skinned normalcy of the rest of us.
I was fourteen when we first became friends and for those few teenage years, I lived half in her world and half in my own. She built campfires in the summer and ran marathons in the spring. We’d rush barefoot through the grass and shoot trap with her grandfather. The land surrounding her family farm was like a very posh wilderness with horses and cows and and orchards and a trampoline. Her mother raised chickens as much for their downy companionship as for their eggs and theirs was a kitchen that was perpetually mid-meal. I remember with perfect clarity one year, perhaps the closest of our friendship, when we woke up at her house on Christmas Eve morning. Everything outside was newly covered in the kind of thick, unblemished snow that sometimes I fear only exists in my memory, or perhaps just in the suburban farmland of Kansas. The cold bit in through her windows but still, we were outside before we were even awake. The pack of mangy-looking family dogs raced after us and our laughter woke her sisters.
I remember those girls, long grown now, as if they were sleek, wild animals. I can still recall the way they were at holiday parties and family gatherings, in their slim dresses and modest heels. But even so, they existed separate from all of that. Their natural state was one of flushed cheeks and ponytails, treetops and running shoes and wet dirt. They were creatures of energy and muscle and air, everything opposite of my books and papers, my crouched-desk posture. I marveled at their boundlessness and perpetual suntans and they in turn marveled at my words, as if their stillness was some kind of impossible alchemy.
* * *
After weeks of quiet, I’m slowly beginning to pull things into my orbit again: a stack of new books, familiar faces, well-loved music, a fresh list of desires.
I sat in the stillness and doubted the inevitability that it would ever end. But here I am, watching again, observing. Writing, yes, and most of all as I drive, as I sleep, as I wait. Least of all at my desk, least of all with pen and paper. I’m thinking again. I’m remembering the summer as if it’s a story someone told me. I’m learning to write from unsteady ground. From everywhere, all at once, and from exactly where I stand, in the darkness of an early morning.