Recent history has taught me that if I waste too much time before writing at night that I get too tired. I start falling asleep while trying to write. Then with just a few sentences to go, I lie down for “just a few minutes.” I fall asleep with all the lights on and wake up two to three hours later, my work unfinished. Depending on my energy level at 2:00 a.m., I either finish or I go back to sleep and finish in the morning. This is probably not the best of habits, because falling asleep with the lights on usually means I’m overly tired.
This reminds me of another time when I would fall asleep with the lights on. It was the summer of 1990. I got a job working for a courier company delivering packages all over San Diego county. It was a horrible job. I got lost constantly. The company car I was driving was unsafe. It’s steering was so shaky that after work was over, I had to not drive my own car for about an hour because my arms were so shaky from driving the company car. Then there was the heat. Neither my car nor the company car had air conditioning. I would freeze a bottle of water the night before just to have relief during the day.
I got lost constantly. Had I known where I was going, the days might have been shorter, but I didn’t know the terrain, so the days lasted ten to twelve hours. And of course, I was constantly stuck in traffic.
On top of it all, I was broke.
It was a horrible experience, compounded by the fact that my whole life was in upheaval on every level. I was spiritually confused, broke, exhausted and as discouraged as I’d ever been. After working ten to twelve hour days, I would fall asleep, too tired to even eat, with all the lights on and wake up the next morning and start it all again. Things just kept getting worse.
Then a lucky break seemed to come my way after I got my first paycheck. My roommate hadn’t cashed my rent check yet so at least I had, according to my calculations, about $100 in the bank. I knew I couldn’t touch most of it, but at least I had a little money. That day, Saturday, while taking stock of my then-current situation, I was pretty depressed. Bad things kept happening. My record player had just broken, so I couldn’t even enjoy my music.
That was the final straw. I had had enough. I decided to go the bank and withdraw $20 to see a movie and forget my troubles for a while. When I got to the ATM, I was denied. I went to another one, thinking the first one was broken, because I knew I had the money, but was denied again. I went back to the first and decided to check the balance. It read -$233.17. The numbers were in red, because I was in the negative.
It was about 4:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday afternoon. There was no way to contact anyone in the bank to resolve the mistake they made. In addition, I didn’t even have money for food. I just had to hope I still had something left in the refrigerator to last me until Monday morning. It was long and torturous weekend. I knew the bank had made a mistake because my rent check hadn’t been cashed and I had deposited my paycheck. But what if the bank hadn’t made a mistake? What would I do? How was this even possible?
Monday morning came and I went to work and put the package for that day’s deliveries in my car. I told the secretary (our boss was vacationing in Jamaica that week) that I had to make a quick stop at the bank to resolve the mistake and then I would make my deliveries. I got to the bank just as it opened. That’s when I found out what had happened. I hadn’t made a mistake, but neither had the bank.
My paycheck had bounced.
That’s why I was $233.17 in the negative. I had to make up that amount plus the money for my rent. I drove back to work, furious, and told the secretary, calmly, that if wasn’t paid immediately, I was quitting then and there. But nobody could do anything, because my boss was in Jamaica enjoying his summer. So I decided to make that day’s deliveries. It would have just hurt and inconvenienced everyone else who wasn’t at fault if I hadn’t. And it wasn’t like I had anything else to do that day. I had no money.
That evening the assistant manager took me out for a meal and told me how much trouble the company was in and how badly it was managed. He recommended I get out before things got worse. I didn’t know what to do. I needed the job, but I also needed a dependable paycheck. I said I would sleep on it.
And I did.
I slept with the lights off. It was the best sleep I had had in weeks.
I woke up to the sun shining through my window and the sound of a bird singing. The morning felt beautiful and peaceful and I knew I wasn’t going back. Then, and I don’t know why this happened, I got a call from a former employer, Larry Matranga, and he said I could work for him until things improved. I borrowed money from a friend and was then eventually paid. Things got better, then worse, and then better again, but not for a long time.
Still, things could have been worse. I was rescued from worse. It occurred to me while doing my Morning Write, that my life has been a series of rescues. I have been rescued from abandonment, starvation and a host of other troubles. Yes, I’ve been bruised and bloodied, but I have always come out alive. I’m not only alive; I’m free. It also occurred to me that I’m free.
For many years I have handed my freedom over to others. Many of the people I gave my freedom to didn’t have my best interests at heart. That is the main reason things got worse. In fact, when I think about my life, there have usually only been one of two sources to my troubles – giving my life over to others or not taking control of my actions and attitudes.
Now I know I can be free. I’m not free of problems, but at least I know that most of my problems are the results of my own decisions. Even with the occasional outside forces, I can still choose my attitude and not give up. I can Get Started and Keep Going…and sleep with the lights off.