1. My bed, 5 a.m., blanket pulled up to my ears.The still, quiet darkness of pre-dawn. The sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter aftertaste of a dream interrupted. I want to think, to contemplate, to dream while my eyes are open, but I melt back into the arms of sleep until the snooze echoes my wake-up call.
2. My car, 7 a.m., barreling down Route 202. The orange and pink fingers of the sunrise tap my shoulder from behind. The cold of the steering wheel seeps through the fabric of my gloves. This is when I talk to God. This is where I exhale all my triumphs, defeats, fears, hopes, desires, and dreams and expose them to open air before I inhale them again, bury them deep in my chest.
3. My classroom, 7:30 a.m., my laptop warming up. The air is heavy, thick with responsibility and anticipation--the moment before the clouds open and release their charges. My mind flits from memories to worries to faces to words, fumbling to put one last piece of my life puzzle in place before I turn my energy toward each jumble of lanky arms and legs, goofy smiles and bed heads about to storm down the hallway.
4. My car, 4 p.m., the sun baking me through the windows. I find an empty parking lot, pull the brake, and recline my seat. I set an alarm for twenty minutes from now, put on The Civil Wars, and close my eyes. A few of my puzzle pieces float in front of me, and suddenly, my eyes are open again--time to move on.
5. The graduate lounge, 5 p.m., at a round table in the middle of the lonely room. Old furnaces line two of the walls and smother the room with hot air--I crack open the bay windows. I have papers, folders, notebook, laptop, phone, drink spread out across the table in a drunken semi-circle. I slide between work and writing and puzzle pieces, work and writing and puzzle pieces, work and writing and puzzle pieces.
6. My friends' couch, 8 p.m. (or 11 p.m. or 3 a.m.), its cushions soft and accepting. The warmth of a French press brew leaks into my palms through the mug. There's always music playing, always talking and laughing, sometimes spontaneous singing. Here I can be extroverted Paul or introverted Paul--both are welcome. I can stand up and scream for no reason, I can lie on the floor and laugh, I can sink into the corner of the couch and be silent. We sit and talk. They take one of my puzzle pieces into their hands, pass it back and forth, turn it around, and help me find a spot for it.
7. My car, 12 a.m., the roads open and empty. I drive slower than I do during the day. I turn down streets I've never traveled before--I'll figure out how to get home eventually. I imagine what it would be like if the world outside my car traveled to next year, two years from now, ten. The numbers on the odometer reach on tiptoes for 100,000.
8. My bed, 2 a.m., the light goes out on my last book, my last email, my to-do list. Sometimes I need the mumbled chatter, the elevator music of some show I've seen a hundred times. Sometimes I need silence and only the short, shallow snores of my dog sleeping on his bed on the floor beside mine. My mind usually comes to rest on only one puzzle piece--it's all I have energy for. I want to flip it around and study it. I want to explore it--plunge through the door into Narnia and chase it for hours, for days. But the closing curtain is too heavy. My eyes close, the curtain falls, and all is dark.