Like every other night, he awoke around midnight and needed very badly to pee. And as he also did every night, he cursed the choice he made years earlier to take the first-floor bedroom, ceding to the children the second floor, which also included the bathroom. So instead of being able to walk sleepily in the dark a few feet to piss, he had to turn on the light and climb the narrow, century-old creaky wooden staircase to make his way to the bathroom. Usually he made it without pissing himself; actually, he always made it without pissing himself, but some nights it was a close call. This was one of those nights.
A decade earlier he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and so urination was something that was on his mind more than it probably was for most people. High blood sugar leads to frequent urination (the least of its effects, which also include blindness, stroke, heart attack, and the one that really haunted him, amputation), and although his sugar was mostly under control these days, it could always be under better control, and he could rarely go more than 3 or 4 hours without having to go to the bathroom. Long gone were the days of his childhood, when his mother would marvel at how long he could go without peeing, sometimes an entire day or more, it seemed, in his memory.
She had been the first diabetic he knew, and looking back it made sense that she would envy his ability to not have to pee every few hours. He'd never thought about it, about her own struggle with the disease, so much harder then with far fewer treatment options and a far worse prognosis. She'd had the disease for all the time he really had her in his life, but he didn't bother to learn a thing about it until years after her death, when he learned he had inherited it from her. With help from a lifetime of shitty food, and too much of it.
He opened the bedroom door. The cat, white and gray, must have stirred when she heard him rising and turning on his bedroom light. When he opened the bedroom door and stepped into the living room, she was waiting, on her haunches, just inches from the door. Her motionless patience made her presence timeless; she could have been waiting there 15 seconds or 3 hours, it was impossible to tell. She trilled a throaty greeting to him as he passed by, then beat him to the top of the stairs when she realized where he was headed.
Stopping at the second floor landing, in the daytime too, but especially times like now, late at night, it was like entering another world from the one downstairs. Like every other night, the music coming from his daughter’s room was too loud. If it was too loud because it was too loud, or because it was Insane Clown Posse, he couldn’t say. If it had been one of the bands who he and his daughter both liked, like Death Cab for Cutie or The Beatles, perhaps he would not have quietly opened the door, reached in and turned down the volume. But it wasn’t, and he did, and then he closed the door and headed toward the bathroom. There was a time when all her musical tastes stemmed from what he listened to, but these past few months they came from YouTube and her friends at school and God only knew where else.
The light had been left on in the bathroom, again. He spent many minutes every week asking both children to shut off lights in this ancient house when they leave a room. The wiring was funky and untrustworthy -- the only light in the bathroom had to come from a lamp tied to an extension cord powered in another room, because the outlet in the bathroom could not generate enough power to see by at night. And like every other night, despite his requests that they leave it up (sometimes he really had very little time to make it to the toilet), the seat was down. The toilet paper roll was in the wrong place. Christ. He lifted the seat and put the paper where he needed it, and then he could finally do it.
It wasn’t the sweet relief of youth, when an empty bladder felt like it would never fill again, and every piss was the last you’d ever need to take. Rather, it was a ten-years-of-diabetes session that never really seemed to end, but rather just to came to an unwilling stop, like an Oscar Award winner with more to say but the orchestra drowning him out. Like every other night, of late, he wondered as he exited the bathroom if he should try one more time to empty himself, just a bit more.
But like every other night, he just wandered back downstairs, defeated, tired and old. The cat, as she always did, had disappeared somewhere between her enthusiastic gallop to the top of the stairs and his going into the bathroom alone. She had never, ever had the patience to wait for him outside the bathroom, and was always gone for the night when he came back out.
By the time he got back downstairs, he felt too awake to go back to sleep. He fired up his email, which had nothing new in it, unlike the old days when he never knew which comic book writer or movie director would make an unexpected visit in his inbox. He was older now, and less visible to the world, and they had mostly stopped calling on him, the famous and the obscure alike. So he surfed the web for a time, and then, fatigue returning for its encore performance, he started for the bedroom. As he touched the doorknob, he realized he needed to pee again. Not a lot, but enough that he would have to go back upstairs one more time before trying to fall asleep again.
Just like every other night, he climbed the stairs again, and hated them, and his bladder, and his body, which seemed to have turned on him almost entirely. Youth is an unbreakable alliance of mind and body. Age is an extended war between the two former allies, as bitter and spiteful as former lovers, and as damnably, fatally and eternally intertwined.