I see one car, the newspaper delivery. He goes up the hill, makes a U turn, darts down, stopping and throwing the paper out and moving off; the car jets in and out of side streets and seems to be noiseless except for the thunk of the paper. The BART train, which is unheard because of other traffic in the day is a string of sound in the background. My dog’s tags jangle as he zips down the stairs and waits for me at the corner.
No one’s lights are on except mine, and occasionally, the nursery downstairs-- they have a wee one, who might be startled by Brewster and me moving around at 4:30 am. The other houses haven't been breathing yet, no curtains shifting or occasional bathroom lights. They probably don't know that we're in the street, Brewster running toward the school, sniffing the garden on the hillside. The lamps catch his shadow as he gallops to the grass.
I have been an early riser since I was a child sharing my bedroom with my sisters. We were three to the bed; so instead of wiggling beside them I took to lying on the floor. I learned to dream awake until it was time to get up and go downstairs. If I went too early, my mother would have put me to work, since she, too was an early riser; so beside the bed I watched the windows lightened and listened to my grandmother in the other bed breathing her raspy moans.
Waking up early came natural because I wasn't much of a sleeper. For years after four intense and deep hours, I woke fresh and energetic which seemed a problem to many people who would try to tell me to sleep more, to force myself. But my doctor said, when I asked, to sleep until I was rested—that was it. So I took that as permission to charge into the day and make that time, that very personal time into something that counted. No matter where I lived or what I did, I embraced life at sunrise or even before-- Running, writing, now teaching classes at the Y, that propel my day with an energy that I don’t have to wait to stir up. My sister says I have more day before noon than most people have all day.
I love the quiet of pre-dawn before motors rumble and technology buzzes through the air. I can’t imagine missing them and I can’t imagine staying indoors while the night curves her back, her final bow, her best lights before she is turned away. The stars are close to the horizon; the lights are deep and the canvas of the sky powerfully dark. Even with the opaque backdrop, I feel mirrored in the stratosphere, that some eye is upon me, some constellation wrapping around me as I saunter quietly up the street.
All the places where I have lived approached the morning in different kinds of busyness and different degrees of stillness. In the Appalachian coal mining town of my youth, the early shift at the mine, promenaded a flotilla of cars going up or going down the hill toward the mine. Once the shift began, the air quieted and roosters from a farm in the direction of Stringtown crowed the alarm. My mother was always starting a wash, getting one in before church.
In college, my first job, suitably, was the early shift in a restaurant called Papa Joe’s. I arrived at four am and the utility workers, cops and deliverymen sat at the counter with their coffee while I splattered the grill with eggs and pancakes. We had three drop lamps in the windows of the café that lit Walnut Street in Pittsburgh until the streetlights fizzed out. At seventeen, a freshman at Pitt, I was spending the early hours with guys holding cigarettes over the hopeless eggs I made them instead of zonked out in a dorm room.
It’s easy to be romantic about your town when you share its private moments. In New York, a friend, who was a high school math teacher, got up to bundle and deliver the newspapers to the corners where newsstands and delivery boys find their stacks wrapped and ready. The Greek diners stoked up, but not the restaurants, cabs multiplied with every tick toward six am. I lived near Central Park and I was part of an early dog walking group that leaned on a railing, doing the Times Crossword, while our dogs chased each other in the field below.
In Astoria, the N train shook the el overhead and the Greek coffeehouses started their brew, sliding the trays of cakes into the cases.
In Albany, the scrape of the snow clearing machines came before I left the house to trudge up an icy hill.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, players were on the field for their first practice, PhD students were reading vociferously. One of my students stopped on the way to creative writing class, earlier in the day, to kill, clean and deliver a pheasant to me because I had never had one. I arrive at my office and it was hanging from the doorknob in a plastic bag.
My earliest encounters were always on foot or bicycle. I ran around the island of Zamalek in Cairo, with the stray dogs following and the soldiers guarding embassies, watching; where ful vendors wheeled to the corner and fed the workers beans in metal bowls, and small stores opened the flaps to hand the fine arts students one of many colas they would drink throughout the day.
In the streets of Ramallah dust gathered in piles and blew around circles, and store fronts went up—minibuses seemed to show up in herds bringing commuters in from the village, lines developed at check points. I headed down to the café below me, and greeted the deaf housekeeper, released the dog from her pen and sat in the garden next to mint and basil.
Morning still feels private to me, although I head into the melee early. After the walk by the school, dressing in the half grey darkness and sometimes getting my clothes on inside out, I stop at the top of the stairs and breathe in the sky, listen to the groaning of machinery waking, the dog click down the stairs. I observe the turnover as I drive, the slide from dark to grey to light, from the few cars to the many heading to the city. I wallow in the illusion, sip my coffee, move slowly.
Brewster settles into the backseat because he knows it’s over too. Morning has come, and with it, the other members of the Y climbing the stairs into the harsh light, where I will open my energy into the day, and supercharge my body for what ever is up ahead.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports