There’s no place safer than the city streets.
Despite what “Law & Order: SVU” tells you, American cities are becoming safe and safer every year (well, not this year, and not in the summer, but on average in recent history). FBI crime stats show that homicides and violent crime are at a 20-year low.
But that’s not what I mean.
I’m standing in my kitchen, looking out of the glass doors that open to the garden, cigarette in hand tense with fiery potential, and I can’t fight the feeling that if I open this door, a hand will thrust from the darkness. I can’t fight the feeling that if I open this door to light this cigarette and sit on the patio to smoke, collect my thoughts, and let a few tears stream past, someone menacing will be watching, waiting to record this secret commune. I can’t be myself in a house. I can’t breathe, really.
It’s 1:30 am in Oxford and I wish I were somewhere else, with pavement and streetlights, tall buildings, and junkies.
I miss those hours of moments of inspiration and insanity, gathered from stalking the hills of the International District down to the Waterfront, thoughts erupting and diffusing in the salty wind. I miss the certainty, that everything will be all right, that came at the end of a jaunt from Sera’s apartment to Essex and Delancey. Lost in the meandering alleyways of Nakameguro, I never felt freer. I’m grasping at the coattails of drunken exuberance that arose like clockwork between Wonderland and Red Derby.
You see, I’m a little stuck, a little sad, and very unsure right now, and I need to enact this ritual to feel okay. And there’s no place like a busy, public street to make me feel absolutely, exquisitely alone in such a comforting way. I’m the girl that cries on airplanes, remember?
For me, these journeys have a precarious beginning and a clarifying end. Mine usually start like this: pacing my apartment in the wee hours of the morning with a pack of Parliament Lights, hoodie on, chin wobbling at the onset of crisis. That crisis could be an impending deadline or a broken heart. Sometimes one and the same, sometimes in between. Compelled, I would open the door, brace for the cold, breathe in the dark, and start walking.
I remember Mr. Jones telling us, his 8th grade history class, that as an aimless youth in Sacramento, no one would mess with him when he walked the rougher neighborhoods even in the middle of the night because he wore his restlessness and anguish on his face. When I moved to Seattle and took my first walk, I took his story with me.
So I walked, fast enough for someone to think I had somewhere to be, but slow enough to let my eyes linger on sources of poignancy for my desperate thoughts. The skyline. The sea. A spotlight, searching.
A car would slow, bass throbbing, then speed past. A body might shuffle from one bench to another. Newspaper, bottles whisk across the street. After a few minutes, maybe an hour, maybe more, the thoughts would quiet, the fears of disembodied urgencies replaced with a heightened awareness of time and place.
I’d retrace my steps, return home and settle into my desk, my bed, the floor. Exhaustion. Resolution. Breathe out.
I thought this was a growing pain, but the ache’s still there.