Tales of a Former Night Owl
There is this path near my college campus that is still my favorite path in the whole world to walk.
Whenever I got close to a person or trusted them or liked them, showing them this path was like lifting up a corner of my heart. It was sacred, intimate, vulnerable. Reject this path and you reject me. Love this path and you might be able to love me.
You don’t even really know it’s a path, because it’s not, really. Most of it is a set of train tracks that rarely sees trains, and the rest is crawling over this huge pile of dirt and bushes, only to find yourself in the back of a park that no one really uses. I could use all my fingers and toes, and all your fingers and toes, and still not arrive at a concrete number of times that my feet have beaten against this trail. When I get that ache in my chest for those days and those times, somehow, it seems to center on that path…most specifically, that path at night. (For there is no time better than the middle of the night for a really good walk. It’s true.)
He was the first one who showed me this path. I have no idea where he heard about it or if he is the one who found it, but regardless, he was the first friend to walk beside me. With all 6’4″ of him and all 5’2″ of me, I imagine us to look like that scene in “Big Fish” where Edward Bloom and Karl the Giant are walking next to each other — a little ridiculous, but only a glance is needed to tell you that those are best friends.
One time, when we had just walked over the bridge that tells you you’re getting close, he led me up the steep embankment next to the tracks. He pushed the grass back and even in the moonlight, I could see it: small white stones that he had carefully laid out to spell “HOPE.”
Every time I walk down those tracks, I always think of that when I pass that grassy embankment. Out of all of my friends, I think he is the one that has taught me the most about hope.
He taught me how to skip rocks in this park. I can’t skip a rock to save my life anymore, but that day, I could. I was wearing a pink tweed hat, and I made him take off his shoes to feel how wonderful it felt when the grass poked up between your toes.
He laughed at me.
Noelle and Laura
We walked down there at 4:30 in the morning one time, after perming their hair and getting a little woozy on the chemicals. We ran into a homeless man while we were holding hands, skipping, and singing Christmas carols (in April). He must have thought we were absolutely out of our minds.
We probably were.
We walked down here many times, often after grilled cheese and James Taylor records late at night. He was one of those friends who could call me at 2am and say, “Want to take a walk?” and we always would. We rarely ever saw other people there, day or night, except, of course, for the one day I accidentally dropped him in the river and jumped in after him without any pants on. Of course, when I was on shore, trying to tug jeans over my wet, shivering legs, I looked up to see a lady walking her dog. Go figure.
When I think of late-night walks, he is always who I think of. I miss him.
I’m a grown-up now, or so they tell me. I ducked out of my apartment around 9:30 tonight, to run and meet up with my friend, Amanda, who was passing along a huge bag of extra produce from the CSA her family belongs to. (Standing the parking lot, passing over a plastic bag, I said I felt like we were making a drug deal. Except instead of drugs, it was kohlrabi and greens and broccoli.)
Going out once the sun was down felt a little foreign to me, but once I inhaled that cool, night air, I felt like myself again — the me that doesn’t have to worry about going into the office tomorrow or making sure my Blackberry’s charged or yawning because it’s past my bedtime. Instead, I felt like the barefoot girl in the pink tweed hat, laughing and spinning around backwards on railroad tracks next to a good friend.
I miss being her sometimes.
I miss taking those walks.
I miss the night.
Hello, old friend.