The weird, quiet world of night - Daniel Silliman

Dad's face was green, in the glow of the dashboard lights. Coming the other way, headlights blared and I stared into them, going temporarily blind and then blinking out the window until I could see the night again.

The moving truck jumped and jostled my 9-year-old eyes awake, as my dad drove down the interstate, chugging Coke by the two-liter, and I stared at the weird world of the night.

Nine-year-old's don't normally see the night. The night is when mysterious things happen: Food appears at the store, adults talk in the living room, Santa Claus comes. I was shocked by the highway's line of lights and the crowded truck stops, fascinated by the darkened fields and houses, open-mouthed at the way time seemed to disappear with the sun and the darkness seemed open and unstoppable.

My dad worked nights, before we moved, pulling the graveyard shift in the frozen foods section of a grocery store. He came home at 8 a.m., and ate breakfast with us, and sometimes, we played basketball before I started school and he went to sleep. He was always calm, after working nights. At the end of a day of work, he could be stressed-out and achy, but after a night of work, he would be mellow, speaking more softly, listening more closely.

I saw the night, for the first time, when I was 9 and we drove through the desert in the dark, avoiding the heat. It seemed like a secret had been revealed.

I didn't find the night again until I was in college. I started writing papers after midnight, when the dorm was silent, except for my clacking and an insomniac down the hall, trying to kill as many video-game enemies as he could before dawn.

Later I started working at the school newspaper, and I would show up just before the security guards locked the doors, and I would edit the next edition in a long, all-nighter.

The night was quiet. Even when the security guards clomped down the hall, when the janitor turned up his music and sang along with the Gospel songs. And even when I turned up my Classic Rock real loudly and drummed on the table, the silence was still all around us.

The noise didn't disturb the night, the same way the headlights could blind me when I was 9 and make no substantial change to the dead of night.

There was a way, I discovered and loved as soon as I discovered it, that the night was owned. The day gets chopped up into chunks -- morning, midmorning, late morning, noon, afternoon and evening -- and the night just goes on. The day seems to belong to something, and day people are interpreted in the sort of masses that only have names for sociologists and pollsters. The night is occupied by a population of misfits.

At night, when I went out to lunch at 3 a.m., there was only one place to go and everyone there was someone specific, someone who didn't fit into the masses and their daytime din.

Or if they did -- for they all occupied the menial jobs a capitalist economy hides in darkness -- they seemed more individual and more human because of the hushed and mellow night.

After college, I started working nights stocking shelves, the same graveyard shift my father had worked when I was a kid. I thought about that, when I sat on the porch in the mornings, watching the sun come up and feeling oddly calm.

Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 254, or via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.s