Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Distant car headlights in the middle of a night drive offer a strangely comforting glow among the dark and still world around me. Those left – sleepless beings and their rebellious internal clocks within brains rushing with unwelcome, long-avoided meaningful thoughts – crave one another as though the sight of a fellow stranger’s open eyelids surrounding their set of hazy eyes is a sign of normalcy – a quick escape from the eerie lonesomeness creeping up beneath the deafening sound of each changing Spotify song. The brightly lit McDonald’s arches reassure every night owl a friendly or not so friendly drive-thru interaction, and the heat of the salty French fries in your lap radiate a sort of warmth that makes up for the absent sunbeams once hot on your skin and the steering wheel during mid-day traffic. You can almost smell the surprise and relief coming from the greeting of a Walgreens cashier and the force of their fake nonchalant motions of restocking the fully stocked candy aisle that you are currently browsing. A rare sighting of a customer at 4 in the morning purchasing five-hour energy shots and extra-cheddar goldfish seems to perplex them, and they awkwardly make a joke about the time as you pile your items on the counter. There is an unspoken, yet undeniable bond formed during each of these interactions – sitting at a red light next to someone with your music playing, sitting behind some other car in the drive-thru line, whining to the cashier about the test you will be failing within the next few hours. As if we all share some secret that must never be revealed to the rest of the sleeping world – a crime that has been committed by us all against the strict rules of reality and the possible judgment relentlessly placed on us by the more responsible members of society.
I unlock my front door spastically, ignoring my ever-paranoid conscious attempting to make me question whether or not the feeling of the eyes glaring into my back is real or imaginary. Quietly, I stumble through the blackness of the kitchen and reach for my bedroom light switch, scanning the room for my remote. The silence is growing in my ears and it must be drowned out soon by the background noise of the TV – pretending that the voices chattering back and forth in the box mounted on my wall are actually in the room with me. An image of my roommates asleep in their cloudlike beds above me flickers across my mind as I attempt to fetch a snack from the mostly empty refrigerator and retrieve a load of warm laundry from the dryer – seemingly important tasks since my to-do list is growing smaller and the call for sleep is steadily growing stronger by the hour. I remember a conversation between my mom and me when she told me that staying up late at night made her feel like she was living in her own little world where time was frozen and there was no world outside of her window to interrupt her rare and precious personal time. The thrill of the night chases away the whispering temptation of sleep not with its silent and dark presence, but rather with the opportunity to gain power over that presence. To escape it through the strike of a match to a flickering candle, the twist of a lamp switch, or the familiar sound of a favorite tv show to fill the air with life. How dare the world stop for eight hours and lure us all into sweet oblivion only to jolt us awake with a cruel sound of a screeching alarm clock and urgent responsibilities. How dare it make us feel guilty regardless of our victory and punish us with overwhelming bouts of daytime sleepiness followed by regret. Still, we remain enchanted by the idea of a world where we are not slaves to time and flock to the sparkling chaos of places with “nightlife” and twenty-four-hour service. It is no wonder one of the most powerful and desired cities in the world fit this scenario. New York City – the city that never sleeps – has been crowned the king of time, granting freedom to those in search of a life without night – without silence, boredom, or darkness.