3AM

If midnight was the Witching Hour, then 3AM was the Hour of Self Loathing. A litany of conditioning and doubt – stupid, ugly, worthless. Coward. Flagellating myself in the darkness, the list marched circles in my head.

The red glowing numbers on the alarm clock ticked forward with agonizing slowness. More time to dissect the minutia of my life. To review every bad decision and awkward encounter. I groaned and flipped the pillow over to the cool side.

For the hundredth time I advised the ceiling that tomorrow – today in fact – would be the day I quit my crappy job. Divorced, underemployed, and constantly dodging that creepy guy in sales, I needed a change.

I’d polished my resignation letter weeks ago. It had taken up permanent residence in my purse.

3:05AM. The night was endless.

#

The alarm shrilled in my ear, insistent. I shuffled through my morning routine in a sleep deprived fog. By habit I set out two coffee mugs. I stared at the heavy Buffalo china for a few moments before putting one away. Plates rattled as the cabinet door slammed.

I put on the blue dress my ex had hated so much and headed to work. Rebelling against a memory.

#

“Hi Amy! What can I do for you?” The boss’s receptionist chirped. Saccharine and assumed, her cheer made my teeth hurt.

“It’s Angie. From accounting?” I hated that it came out sounding like a question. Two years on the job and she still couldn’t get my name right.

“That’s right. Alice.” She stared at me with unblinking eyes. They were an unnatural shade of green. Contacts then. I wasn’t the only one pretending to be someone else.

Silence stretched. A corner of her brightly painted lips turned down, bubbly veneer starting to tarnish. In the cross-hairs of her disdain, I struggled to form the words.

“I’m not feeling well. Perhaps I’ll take a sick day.” Envelope crushed in my fist, I mumbled my excuses and fled. I spent the ride home luxuriating in self pity.

#

I fished the crumpled letter from my purse in disgust. Hands shaking, I flipped it over and over. A corner sliced my finger, striking like a parchment viper. Furious at my cowardice, I flung it across the kitchen counter.

A drop of crimson marred the creamy paper, staring up at me in accusation. Mocking. I swallowed hard against the acrid taste of failure and poured myself a beer.

Settling into a threadbare loveseat, I surfed the channels. There was never anything worth watching, but it distracted me from reality. TV problems were tidily resolved in 30 minutes or less, wrapped in Hollywood tinsel. Happy endings all around. I snorted, halfhearted, at the sitcom tomfoolery. Three seconds behind the laugh track, it echoed isolated and hollow. The noise drowned out my thoughts. For the moment.

#

It was late. Or perhaps early. I refused to check. If the clock read 3AM I would scream, rip it from the wall. Antsy, I paced. Even that was frustrating – the house was too small for my restlessness. I flicked on the kitchen light, resigned to another sleepless night.

A creased, stained rectangle of paper caught my eye. The resignation letter lay forgotten on the counter. I stared at it, considering.

In a flurry, I dashed into the bedroom, yanking on a pair of jeans. My shirt was rumpled. I didn’t notice. I shoved bare feet into sneakers, no time for socks – if I loitered I’d lose my nerve. Back in the kitchen I rummaged through a drawer in search of a stamp. Slapping it to the corner of the envelope, I shoved the letter in my pocket. I didn’t bother locking the front door on my way out.

The street was quiet, the neighborhood pregnant with expectation. Approaching the mailbox on the corner, I fished the letter from my pocket. I held it for a moment, smoothing the wrinkled envelope. The power of words on paper felt almost tangible, severing the ties to a life I didn’t want to live anymore.

A smudge of predawn violet fought the darkness. The street light flickered and went out. I opened the mailbox and let go. The scrap of paper disappeared into the depths of the blue gullet. The door snapped shut, metal clanging. Shackles being released.

I glanced at my watch. 5AM. The Hour of New Beginnings.

(Names have been changed for the illusion of anonymity.)

12 thoughts on “3AM

  1. Boy am I glad you mailed that letter. Like really, really glad. I know what insomnia feels like, and until you’ve experienced it, no one seems to understand. Add in a shitty job where some dude is creeping on you? UGH. Small concrit: “My shirt was rumpled. I didn’t notice.” I would ask if you didn’t notice how did you know it was rumpled? I sincerely hope your next essay is a joyful look at what happens when you make a courageous choice like you did and how you’re new job is so awesome you can hardly stand it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you mailed the letter! No one should stay in a job that is unhappy. Since you put a concrit badge on, there were a couple of things that didn’t make sense to me. For example, I can’t imagine getting a papercut from a letter that is crumpled up. I’ve never heard of that–crumpling softens the edges too much. And what Lisa already pointed out. You might benefit from a beta reader before posting. You can ask in the coffeehouse—there are plenty of people willing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the thoughts! The letter wasn’t balled up, only slightly crushed. It still gave a mean paper cut! I’ll consider language that is more clear. 😁

      I specifically don’t use betas for on the weekly grid, because I use it as self-editing practice!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really liked that you likened the paper to a viper when it cut you. I never would have thought to connect the two but it instantly took me to the feel of a papercut. I had a little trouble understanding why you didn’t just turn in the resignation. It felt like you’d made the decision and I didn’t quote understand what emotional investment kept you from just doing it. But it was more of the feel that you get in a movie when you tell “just do it!!!” at the screen. You made me want you to be happy that badly (and I really hope it all worked out for the best).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, 3 a.m. self-critique. I know it well. I’m relieved you mailed the letter in the end, and I hope you’ve found a more rewarding place to work!

    I really liked the repetition of the 3 a.m. critique, resolving in the 5 a.m. new beginning. There’s a choppiness to this that reflects the choppiness of the emotions you’re conveying really well. And the “parchment viper” was wonderfully evocative!

    I have two nitpicks. The first is where the secretary calls you “Alice” immediately after you’ve corrected her with “Angie”. I wasn’t sure whether this was malicious on her part, or she just didn’t care to pay attention.

    The second is where you’ve used a common phrase, “…the neighborhood pregnant with expectation”. Your writing often pushes boundaries and experiments with new techniques, so it felt oddly flat to read this. I kept looking for the neighbourhood’s expectation. What was it waiting for? If it was waiting for all the possibilities of a new day, clarifying that would have foreshadowed the 5 a.m. new beginning neatly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, good question about – Amy/Angie/Alice. It’s been quite a few years and I still wonder that myself!

      “Your writing often pushes boundaries and experiments with new techniques” – I love that you said that, because that’s pretty much how I want to define myself as a writer! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Girl, yes! I’ve polished my resignation email just about once a month for the last year. And when I finally did get the nerve to quit my job, my boss made me an offer I just couldn’t turn down… So, I’m still here…

    3 am is definitely my time to over think things. I had about a week were I would wake up around then and fight to go back to sleep. I finally would about an hour before my alarm went off….

    I also love love love all the imagery in this piece! I feel like I’m there with you shoving my feet into shoes with no socks and grabbing a shirt that I hope looks halfway decent. Wonderful job!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hate those 3am wake-ups so much. I did love this, though. I especially loved the image of a parchment viper. It was a great image! I’m very happy you mailed that letter, and I hope you found a good employer after that.

    Liked by 1 person

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