When I was in college, I used to take these late night walks around town. I might leave at one or two in the morning. It didn’t matter if it was a sweltering summer night, when the muggy air pressed back against every step and the night was still—the freshman not yet moved in—or if it was the dead of winter with the streets all closed to car traffic because they were iced over. When I couldn’t sleep, I walked.
I suppose it should have occurred to me to trace back to the root of my restlessness. Poor diet, no exercise to speak of, repressed emotions, and a long plateau in maturation are all evident in retrospect, but I imagine I could have noticed them at the time if only I’d stopped to look.
But this isn’t a story about what could have been.
I would walk through the residential part of town on the other side of campus. This was where all the faculty and staff lived, and the townies who ran the bars and the secondhand bookstores. As students, we had a great deal of a certain kind of pride in this town, but the people who lived here—their pride was of another kind. We were just tourists; this was their town.
If I was going to be a tourist, I might as well tour their neighborhoods. I felt a bit clandestine, walking past darkened homes between distant streetlamps. There was a playground at a public park, and sometimes I would waste an hour or more sitting on a swing, rocking myself gently without letting my feet leave the ground, doing my best to keep my mind blank.
At the time, I thought it felt like a very Taoist thing to do.
I would get home again just before sunrise. Inevitably, one of my six roommates or couch crashers would be awake, and I’d sheepishly grin and disappear into my room without answering their questions. I knew they would all exchange notes later; when did he come home today? What direction did he come from? Did he say where he was? We should follow him sometime. I bet it’s that girl in his chem lab.
I enjoyed even the thought of their fabrications more than anything in my real life. Imagining what they might be imagining would usually do the trick; it was like warm milk twenty years prior or a finger of scotch ten years later. It soothed me, and my eyes finally grew heavy.
I think I was putting off growing up.
A lot has changed since then. And you know how people like to talk.
Anyway, I should get my butt off this park bench and get back home.
Notes: In this exercise, I began writing as soon as the prompt was delivered without any time to think. The prompt was to write about what happens late at night.