I took a walk last night.
There was one summer when I took a lot of walks in the nighttime. Because I wasn’t sleeping well, that summer. I lived in Texas and the air was cool at night, even though the pavement was still hot.
I forgot what it was like, walking in the night.
Until last night.
I had a lot on my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I live in Oklahoma now, and it was a cool night. When I went outside, there was a cat curled up in the middle of the street. This cat was a heatsink for all the energy stored in the pavement.
And I remembered. I remembered that walking in the night is like being a tourist in another universe. Everything is different. These things built by humans (shoe stores and funeral homes and telephone poles) turn into natural features at night. The place where I bought my cell phone has dark windows in the night, and locked doors, and it looms over the sidewalk like an ancient pagan temple that’s been there since before the invention of writing.
After a few minutes of walking, you’re not even on a walk anymore. You’re a pilgrim, and you’re traveling. Where? I don’t know. Somewhere a long way away.
You’re very alone, out there.
Cars pass you on the road. In the night, their windshields are opaque and their headlights shine like crazy eyes. They’re not machines guided by humans. They’re automatons searching through the night, and they make you nervous when they pass you by. You know they noticed you. But what do they want? Where are they going? What are they for? All these questions that you’ll never be able to answer.
Are you the last human left on the planet?
Sometimes it feels that way. But then you run into someone else. Some other pilgrim wandering the night, going to some place or another for unknown reasons.
You pass each other.
You don’t say anything. You don’t look at each other. You don’t want to talk to this person. This freak. This weirdo. You know there must be something wrong with them. It’s the middle of the night, for god’s sake. What are they doing out here, in this alternate universe?
It’s not personal. It’s just that nothing is really safe out here. Maybe this is an ancient program written into our brains, to be some percentage more paranoid when we’re in the dark. So it’s not personal, but you’re wondering to yourself: Can I trust this strange person in the night?
And you know they’re asking the same questions in their own heads, asking the same questions about you.
What a weirdo, this person is thinking about you.
And they’re right. You’re a weirdo. You’re walking in the middle of the night.
You pass each other. Once more, you’re alone. You’ve lost everything. You’re just a lonely soul wandering your city. You’re disconnected, homeless. Time passes, your feet carry you forward, and you begin to feel the real weight of loneliness on your shoulders. This is how it feels to be really alone, to have nothing and no one.
And then it’s over.
You’ve made a vast circle and come back home. You’re climbing the stairs. You put the key into the front door and open the door.
Here’s your home. It’s warm. Food is waiting in the refrigerator. This is the modern world, you don’t have to hunt for anything, you can just go to the grocery store. You can twist a deadbolt and get into bed, pull the covers up to your chin.
Everything is safe.
You’re back in the real world. You haven’t lost anything. You haven’t lost anyone. You have everything right here, everything you need. Everything you care about.
And yet. Why does it feel like you’ve lost something? Why does it feel like you left something out there in the night?