No Torture Compares to the Late-Night Grind

It is four o’ clock in the morning and the acrid taste of lukewarm coffee sits heavy on my tongue. Physically, I am very much awake. My right leg shakes uncontrollably and I have developed an acute twitch in my left temple. Mentally, I have been asleep for more than 30 minutes.

This odd separation of body and mind temporarily affords me a unique perspective into the absurdity of my situation. Tasked with completing a six-page essay, I have instead plunged headlong into the grim depths of academic desperation, grasping wildly for answers, swinging blindly at questions, falling rapidly closer to the infinite vacuum of permanent scholarly confusion. My arms are sore. My head is blank. My Word document is significantly blanker.

But I cannot move forward. Some distant part of me is so weighted down by the sudden enormity of this task, so crushed and cornered and revolted by the horrifying prospect of forging on, that I retreat, defeated, into this strange comatose state of waking sleep. I am frozen in place, propped upright in my chair like some insane mannequin — eyes wide, mouth open, hair slick with grease. I think, therefore I am awake. If only it were that simple.

A break would be good. I should take a break.

Outside on my balcony the early morning air is cold and wet. There are no cars, no people — just the distant hum of a now muted Interstate 5 and the always-present glare of the palatial Mormon temple that looms, guard-like, over my sleeping neighborhood. This is the quiet time, the changing hour, the moment just before one day becomes another — before alarms go off and breakfast is made and dogs are walked. This is the time to think. This is the time to realize.

In five hours I will turn in this essay. In five hours I will have either succeeded or failed. The feeling that washes over me now is a familiar one. Do or die. It always comes down to this; the final stretch, the last push. Gather your wits about you. Collect your thoughts. Make your fingers move across the keyboard. Five hours. Five hours.

Nights like this are never easy. They are a test. They strip you down and beat you to the edge of consciousness. They pull at your weakest parts, push you to confront your limits, make you realize your capacity for pain, for exhaustion, for frustration. Nights like this are primal, raw. Man versus task; student versus midterm.

Back inside I am filled with a renewed vigor. Body and mind are reunited as one. Keys click as fingers fly — the rhythmic dance of ideas becoming words, of thoughts becoming permanent. I am the thinker, the conductor — a director of movement, a maker of things. I will pour myself into this task. I will push myself to breaking. I will succeed.

It is five o’ clock in the morning and the acrid taste of lukewarm coffee sits heavy on my tongue.