It's 6:32. The sky on the other side of the sliding glass doors is still dark. I left one of the doors open so the dogs could come and go. They were stuck inside all night, and the small one, Sparta, has a tiny bladder. People mistake her for a Jack Russell all the time, but she's actually a miniature rat terrier.
The rest of the house is quiet and dark. The soft, yellow light from the kitchen track lights high up in the vaulted ceiling doesn't turn the corner and creep down the short hallway very far. It certainly doesn't reach the three small bedrooms and single bathroom at the end. There are five egg whites sizzling in a skillet on the stove. They have to be cooked slowly or they'll stick to the pan; it's time to start thinking about replacing some of our cheaper pieces of kitchenware.
There's a decorative mirror hanging on the beige wall in the kitchen. The mirror is useful because I can get breakfast ready and work on the length of my tie at the same time. I've been wearing ties to work for over two years, but professional attire still doesn't come natural.
My wife would love to get up and fix my omelet for me, but I can't seem to make myself wake her up. She'll get up on her own before I leave anyway. When she does she'll complain with honest but mild irritation that I should get her up to help out in the early mornings. She loves to feel needed, but she works evenings at Starbucks. She's also eight months pregnant. She needs to rest, and I'm not in a hurry.
When the eggs are finished and my tie looks right I sit down at the kitchen table to eat. I've stuffed the omelet with green peppers and mushrooms, and I have a piece of whole wheat toast with local honey smeared across it on the side. The coffee is black, pressed, and steaming.
Our table seats four. It's a modern style - dark imitation wood, straight edges, rectangular, smooth. It might look expensive if the finish wasn't so splotchy and chipped. Most of that is my fault. I can be absent minded about the objects I set directly on the tabletop. For instance, there are several faded spots exactly the size of our French press, but my wife is incredibly gracious about those sorts of things. She's told me more than once I'm the dumbest smart person she knows, and she shakes her head and grins slightly out of the corner of her mouth when she says it. Some mutual friends of ours introduced us at a Super Bowl party, and the first remark she ever made to me was a sarcastic comment about how sparse my facial hair was. I knew immediately that I was going to marry her.
Of the four chairs at the table, I choose the spot that faces the sliding glass doors. The sun is beginning to rise on the front side of the house, so the backyard is lighting up gradually. There are large, overgrown knockout rose bushes just off the deck. Thistly branches with dark green foliage are twisting and curling around the railing. I know they need to be pruned, but even this late in the summer they are full of huge, blush colored blooms. I suppose I cannot trim back beauty anymore than I can wake it up.
Although I love the scenery, there is a much better reason to sit with my back to the large opening that leads out of the kitchen and into the rest of our home. A game is about to begin. It begins on time almost every morning, just a few minutes before I have to leave the house, and it will be one of the best moments of my entire day. So, I am patient and fully attentive.
As I work quietly on my omelet and coffee, I listen to a steady shhhhhhhhh coming across the baby monitor in the living room behind me. The other end of that monitor sits in our daughter's room. She sleeps with a sound machine which creates a constant imitation of the wind. I continue listening. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh - - - it stops abruptly, and there is complete silence. The silence, however, is not empty. I know the room is actually full of activity, and I continue to wait.
By now, our larger dog has returned from the outdoors and is lying beside the table at my feet. He's always patient, and he's affectionate in the mornings. Tobie is a seven year old black lab mix. I notice his tail beginning to thump lightly against the laminate flooring. I glance down. His ears have perked up a bit, and his attention has been directed from my plate of food to something behind me. I turn slowly, like whatever is back there should be discovered gently, but before I am completely in position to follow his gaze there is a rapid pitter-patter down the hall and a short, choked off squeal of laughter.
I return to my breakfast, but only a moment later Tobie is alert again. Now his tale is in full swing, thwack, thwack, thwack. I rotate quickly this time and catch a pair of blue eyes peeking at me from around the hallway corner. They sit above a tiny little, flat nose and round cheeks with deep dimples. My daughter is grinning broadly, and this time she charges across the few feet between the two of us with unconcealed laughter, and I catch her up so she can't escape back down the hallway again.
When I finally set her down she brushes long wisps of blond hair out of her face and holds out a package of baby wipes and a pair of clean underwear with girly cartoon figures on them. She loves getting into her dresser drawers to find a change of clothes for the day. She's so proud to be three years old.
My little girl loves to eat too. She sits on my right knee while I finish breakfast, snacking on my eggs and vegetables. She loves mushrooms and green peppers. We chat about how pretty the backyard is and how we will exercise in the garage together when I get home from work. She asks if she can go outside on the back porch to see the pink sky and to look for the birds that are singing, and I encourage her to do so. On the way out she takes some time to embrace the dogs with overly aggressive hugs. She's especially attached to Sparta, who looks like she's going to pop when she's squeezed too tightly. Our three year old may be a bit eccentric for such a small kid, but for me that's such a relief.
I'm pouring the last of the French press into a travel mug and cleaning up the table when my wife wanders into the kitchen. Tobie beats me to the greeting, hopping up, swinging his tale back and forth, nestling his nose and face into the side of her leg. She walks straight to me, and I wrap my arms around her neck. She's several inches shorter than I am, and normally she would stand on her tip toes to get her arms above my shoulders. Lately, though, she has also had to turn to the side to reach me since our son is in the way. She's thin with elegant features, and pregnancy hasn't changed that. Our son has created quite a bump, but it's only obvious when someone sees her profile. I kiss her, and when she buries her head in my chest her hair tickles my nose. It's wispy and blond like our daughter's. The blue eyes are also hers, but the dimples are mine. She asks if there is anything I need her to do to help me finish getting ready. There isn't. She makes a few comments about that, but lets it go quickly, as I knew she would.
Our daughter notices her mother has entered the kitchen and she comes in from outside to greet her as well. I finish up the morning routine while they sit and talk at the table. Some teachers are so organized and streamlined, but I'm not. I have a variety of bags slung over both shoulders: computer case, satchel for lesson plans and grade book, lunch bag, gym bag for Advanced P.E., and my left hand is clinging desperately to the travel mug of hot coffee, leaving my right hand free to operate door knobs and make it out to the truck. I look like I'm leaving for a two day trip. It's a good thing I teach older students and my school promotes a lot of college level discussion. The younger grades would eat me for breakfast.
When I'm finally ready, I kiss my wife one more time and squat down awkwardly to hug my daughter, careful not to disrupt the chaos I'm carrying around. I scratch Tobie lightly with my foot, and head out the front door, banging all sorts of things against the wall and the door frame on the way out.
My 93 Ford Ranger is parked in front of the house on the street because it leaks oil. It was given to my brother in law, who eventually gave it to me when my wife and I needed a second vehicle. Its light green paint is faded, and the corner behind the driver's side door is rusted away. It sits up a bit higher than other small trucks because the tires are slightly larger. I notice for the twentieth time the brake dust building up on the front wheels and make another mental note to repair them soon.
I hoist all my baggage into the passenger side and walk around to the driver side. Neither the heat nor the air works, but it doesn't matter because the morning isn't too warm. The radio also went out a few days ago when I hit a bump at my sister in law's house; that does irritate me a little. I settle in and slam my door shut, brushing insulation off my dress shirt. There's no upholstery in the roof, so bits and pieces of yellow fiberglass drift down from the ceiling every time the truck shakes.
I pull up to the red light just outside my neighborhood. I'll be turning left onto the main road that will take me to work. The morning traffic is already beginning to pick up. Vehicles are whizzing through the intersection. I notice that there is relatively little variation in color, shape, and size. The blur ahead of me is mostly brown, tan, silver, white, and black, though I do see an occasional dark red or blue. There are cars and trucks, but little else, and most all of them still have their factory shine, reflecting the warm morning light off precise edges and darkened windows.
The sight induces the day's agenda. There are still handouts to be printed because the computer wouldn't cooperate with the copier yesterday; the network was a mess. There will be a faculty devotion at 7:45, and I've wandered in at the end too many times already. I glance down at my phone to check the time and then back at the light anxiously.
By 8:15 students will be asking about their paper grades in my first class. They aren't finished yet, even though the mid quarter ends in a couple days and grades are due. I'll lecture for two periods until chapel at 9:45. Then I'll lecture in four more periods between 10 and 3. The faculty meeting will start at 3:20. Traffic will be heavy on the way home, and church starts at 7. My wife has worship team practice after the service, so she won't be home until 9:30.
My right leg begins to twitch and bounce nervously. The monotony of the traffic is broken when a couple of semis with large advertisements stamped to their sides roll by, shaking the ground and filling the little cab of my truck with the noisy clamor of rushing wind. It's the most empty thing I've ever heard.
The light turns green, and as I'm turning left the sunrise comes into full view directly ahead of me. It would be beautiful if I didn't have to look directly at it. The sun has risen to the exact height of the next light, blinding me, and I'm struggling to see its color, nervous that I will be the cause of some serious collision, but I pass through that intersection and several others with no actual complications.
I sigh a bit. Once I'm clear of our small city the drive will be so much more enjoyable. I'll take the back road so I can enjoy the scenery and mentally prepare myself for my classes. The road will be lined on both sides with large, old trees, curving and weaving around enormous horse farms.
Commuters are piling up at the last light heading out of town. The parkway ramp coming up on my right is full and it's spilling into my lane. I notice that all those vehicles are shoving, muscling their way in and moving too fast. I look over my left shoulder so I can get over, but that lane is even more crowded and unyielding. I glance with a little desperation in my rear view mirror; all I can see is the front bumper and tinted windshield of something large, and it's so close. In a moment I glance back to the ramp on my right, fully aware.
My world is turning, and the sun has blinded me again, but I still see blond hair and blue eyes squinting above broad smiles, quietly convincing me that I have never needed anything more.
Josh Fraley # December 5, 2012