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the time you start thinking it isn’t going to happen
I used to spend a lot of time in the 2 am mental space. As a new parent it's now completely closed to me, so I thought I’d try to capture some of the essence before it’s gone forever. You can’t access 2 am by being woken up by a screaming baby at 1. 2 am is a space you only reach by staying up intentionally.
No matter how fucked your sleep schedule is, there were at least a few off-ramps earlier in the night. You made it here because you wanted to, because you missed something in the early hours that you’re looking for now. You wanted to get one more loot drop, get a moment alone with that girl in the corner, untwist yourself more completely. You wanted to find something new. You thought that maybe the TvTropes rabbit hole would get you there, this time.
2 am is also about the time you start thinking it isn’t going to happen. If it was going to happen, it would’ve happened already. You’d be deep in conversation by now or your body would already be pressed up against someone else’s, you wouldn’t even be aware of the time. The night is pretty committed by now. You aren’t going to meet someone new, at least not someone that you’ll want to remember tomorrow.
2 am is a time that you can give up. You can still sleep six or seven hours and wake up in the morning. 2 am is your last chance to make a good decision.
2 am is the time for quixotic choices. You don’t have to go home yet. You can have one more drink. You can go to the 24-hour McDonald’s and fumble your phone onto the ground. You can send dopey texts before you really think them through. You can make conversation with the bored cashier, or anyways you can try. They have the white lights on very bright here, bright enough for you to see the streaks that the mops leave on the brown-tiled floor. You can wash your face in the bathroom, but when you look in the mirror you'll see the deep bags under your eyes and the reddish tinge of your skin.
You can think of other choices, other ways you could have been. You could have gone to bed early and volunteered at a soup kitchen in the morning, or had a nice cup of coffee with the birds in the park. You could have talked to that girl in the corner. Even now you could be sharing a drink and the view from the rooftop of your buddy's apartment. You could have tried harder in school. You could have tried again with the girl from high school Spanish. Back home, people your age don't walk home alone from McDonald's at 2 in the morning. They wake up early and make toast and push their children on the swingsets.
2 am can happen even when you’re at home. You can watch a nice movie with your girl and stay up while she goes to sleep. You feel faintly annoyed with her for leaving you alone like this. It’s too late to go out, too late to call your friends, but it’s not too late for Twitter and Substack and watching other people play on Twitch. It’s a good time for listening to drunk girls hollering outside your window. You can be annoyed or you can attend to your twinge of envy.
I’m not sure what happened to those 2 am feelings. Is existential angst just sleep deprivation? I had that sense of yearning for about as long as I can remember, but it’s mostly gone now. When I was younger I thought it meant that something was missing, something that I could find if I kept on looking. Now I’m not so sure.
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