When my dad turned on the kitchen light last week at midnight, he must have thought I was going insane. There I was, sitting quietly on the floor with a carton of milk, a bowl of cereal filled to the top and a spoon. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him, “it’s a long story.”
Every night for the last three months, at midnight I have walked slowly down the stairs, opened the cupboard and eaten a bowl of Mini-Wheats in the dark.
Yes, I know it’s strange. I started doing it because I was hungry and couldn’t find anything to eat, but soon realized that I could not fall asleep without it. I would lay in bed, tossing and turning for hours, unable to drown out my thoughts about the upcoming day no matter how much music I listened to or how many sheep I counted. My nightly pilgrimage to that orange cardboard box became my form of meditation, my therapy, my way to cope with the daily trials and tribulations.
Sitting alone in the dark, with not a sound to be heard except for the constant crunch of cereal, I can find solace. After days without a moment of pause from the seemingly never-ending responsibilities, those 20 minutes of silence can seem like a rare treasure. Alone in the emptiness of my kitchen, my parents asleep and my binders stowed away somewhere in my pitch black room, all of my worries seem like long-forgotten memories.
The weird thing is, I hate mini-wheats. I hate how soggy they get after just five minutes in the bowl. I hate the stale taste they always leave in my mouth when I am done. I hate nearly everything about them. But I could not care less about that. In my bowl of soggy mini-wheats, I find an elusive sense of full control. Not just control over every aspect of my routine, but also control over my thoughts. I could sit there forever with the cereal box, the spoon, the glass bowl, things in themselves, myself being myself.
It does not matter to me if nobody understands why I do it; rather, I prefer it that way. Part of what makes my nightly routine so special to me is that it is distinctly mine, an experience that I, and no one else, have a personal connection to.
No matter what form it takes, we all need our own ritual. We all need a way to let go of the anxiety that we cling to throughout the day. We all need something so personal, so peculiar, so different from the rest of our lives, that it breaks up the daily cycle. For me, that means eating a bowl of mini-wheats at midnight. For someone else, it may mean taking a shower, walking around the room, or drinking a cup of coffee in the morning.
But right now, it’s 11:54, Mom and Dad are asleep, and I’m getting hungry.