I’ve been taking a lot of night walks lately. Skulking, I call it. Disappearing into the Californian night, leaving my messy room, messy mind behind. I walk without light as often as possible. Sometimes I run.
The town I live in is a wealthy geriatric place, million-dollar homes landscaped with succulents and neatly polished rocks, sculptures of dolphins and otters watching over the plant beds. There are no streetlights, no sidewalks. I rarely see another person on my nightly jaunts, except on Thursday evenings when people roll out their trash cans, and at nine o’clock when an older woman emerges from her garage to let her dog piss on the undeveloped property across from her house.
Night is always different. Sometimes, when the moon is almost full, the air is glittery darkness, the stars washed out by the lunar brightness, everything draped in a glowing shade of black. And other times it is womb dark. Fog rolls in, and it feels like a nightmare, like a dream, like another realm entirely. Sometimes I am alone. Sometimes I am not.
The other week during class, a girl trailed me closely as we walked through the neighborhood after tide pooling. She looked at me with button brown eyes, trying to leech my attention with her questions, her blatant stares. I told her that she was smart to wear shorts that day as the sun shone more intensely than anticipated. She told me that she rarely wears shorts because one time a boy placed his hand on her thigh and it made her uncomfortable.
That’s where the story started. Like a loosely wound spool, it unraveled from there. As we walked in the heat, up the hill, past the house with the automatic lights that burst into illumination every evening I pass them, she continued sharing. I gave her my watered-down, elementary-school-appropriate feminist talk: No one can touch you without your permission. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s not OK. Don’t feel embarrassed; it’s not your fault; it’s never your fault. I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell her that this won’t happen again, that everything is behind her, that things get better. But they don’t. She is 11 and her childhood has been taken from her in small, snatching ways, and this is what it means to exist in bodies like ours, and I wish that it wasn’t this way, I wish life was a little less red, but I don’t know how to turn every scar into poetry. There is so much that is beyond me.
I ran hard that night. As I was leaving camp, a coworker passed me in his car. He jumped out and asked if I was OK, if I needed a headlamp. I told him I had one; I just preferred darkness. He seemed concerned. He didn’t get it. The point is not to be seen. That’s what I want. To exist in the darkness unnoticed, to pass by the TV-illuminated windows in total silence, to stand in the middle of the road with world sprawled around me with nothing but stardust in my heart, moonlight in my veins. Because here on the golden coast, in this retirement town, I can move through the darkness without worry, without fear, without light. There is no one chasing me. There are no men shouting at me from their porches. There are no streets that I’ve learned to avoid because they make my skin crawl with threatened violence.
To only fear the uneven pavement and your own reckless speed. Imagine.
Walking at night feels luxurious here. I want to gather it in my fists until the smell bleeds into my fingertips. I want to bathe in it and cradle it and wear it like an expensive robe. I want to fold it into my pocket and take it with me so that I can have expansive, empty darkness with me forever.
Sometimes the world feels like a map of places I cannot go, and so much of my history feels like me sucking in a breath and going anyway.
My night walks are always different. Sometimes they are spent with a laser pointer in hand, staring at they sky, trying to identify Leo and the entirety of Ursa Major. Sometimes they’re spent running from skunks in Fiscalini. And sometimes they’re spent lying on the ground feeling the opposite of lonely (is there a word for that?), staring up at the limitless sky. But I go out into the night because it is a gift to slip through the cracks, to be unnoticed, to be forgotten, to exist as a small speck of night moving quietly through the star-studded world, knowing no fear, only life.