The AM Hours: Part 1
I hadn’t seen Marquis in five years–long enough that the ornateness of his first name was again jarring to me. During the ten years we had taught together, I had never asked if he preferred to have his name pronounced Mar-cus or Mar-keys or some other variation. He was from a working-class background in Texas, and I could not have called him Mar-keys without feeling as if he and I were aspiring to a sophistication that didn’t fit in a high-school faculty room. I just called him Mark. He had retired five years before me. I had retired the previous June.
We were sitting in a downtown coffee house at a table that looked out on a parking lot. “You said you had a question?” he asked after we’d talked about friends with whom we’d taught.
“Do you remember how I used to get up early on school days?” I asked.
“I remembered it was an ungodly hour,” Marquis said.
“It was four AM which seems crazy, but it gave me two hours to sort through what I hadn’t done the day before. I felt like I was getting a head start on the coming day, like I was a runner who had snuck onto the track and was a mile down the road before the race started.”
“I stayed after school to do the same sort of organizing,” Marquis said.
“I know. And that makes sense for most people. But for me, at the end of a school day my mind was like a radio dial that was mostly static and fuzzy stations, and it was like even the stations that came in clearly were in the middle of the news or weather and didn’t make sense entirely. ”
“Retirement hasn’t stopped your talking in metaphors,” Marquis said.
“It’s just that so much happened during a school day–so many discussions and emotions and resolutions and promises and plans that by the end of the day my brain was static and fuzzy; and it wasn’t until the next morning that I could sort through things. I think my mind need the quiet in the mornings while I made coffee, and the darkness of the air when I walked the dog, and the way the sky seemed more logical when there was no one else awake. It was almost like the day was pregnant at 4 AM, and I couldn’t be sure what was coming, but whatever it was hadn’t gotten complicated yet. I’m sorry, that’s another metaphor, but am I making any sense?”
“Maybe,” Marquis said. “What about now? Do you still get up at 4 AM?”
“That’s just it,” I said. “Now when I get up early, the morning feels the same as the rest of the day, just darker. There’s nothing special about it.”
A car pulled into the parking lot outside the window we were sitting in front of, and Marquis watched as it parked. Then, he looked back to me and said, “There’s something about retiring from teaching that no one tells you.”