As I anticipated the onset of night, I grew restless, my hands aching with a vacant nervousness due to nothing in particular. It was always this way. Something in the setting of the sun always made me feel as though life were brewing out there, in the streets, in the darkness. Maybe I had too much imagination, my teachers sometimes said so, chastising me for staring out the windows in class instead of hanging on their every word, but I felt it. Somewhere I hadn’t been yet or someone I hadn’t met or a conversation that hadn’t been formed were waiting for me, calling loudly. The unknown was my secret lover, waiting impatiently.
I finished changing and grabbed a warm jacket, said goodbye and left into the dark street where a lamp down the block was ringed in that magical golden halo the streetlights wear on the evenings when the fog rolls in off the bay. The chill only permeated my jeans since my feet were warm in their boots and thick socks and the rest of me was swallowed up in the coat which I had pulled tightly around me like some sort of Army issue cocoon. It made me smile. Alone on the sidewalk, hiding deep in my jacket, my mouth hidden under my upturned collar, I felt invisible and I loved it.
It was my specialty, being a shadow, unnoticed, thus able to observe and reflect in my own time. Even better was the recent discovery, brought on by yet another change of schools and the speedy onset of puberty, that when I desired, I could metamorphose easily into someone that was hard to ignore. All it took was a change of posture, some direct eye contact and actually speaking to people. Everything was new and exciting even just walking through this dark, empty neighborhood. I paid attention and felt damp air brush my cheeks, a stark and thrilling comparison to the warm, pulsing breath that circled around my chin and lips as I blew into my collar.
I headed to the main strip and walked uphill, loosening my coat as I grew closer to the stairs that would lead me up toward the park. My best friend had said that everyone was going to the rock tonight and I had planned to meet her there. I hoped she was right. Something needed to happen though it didn’t really matter what. Perhaps I was just easily bored.
The hill wasn’t a long walk and as I left the avenue behind I could hear voices off in the distance that assured me that at least a few people had already climbed the rock. By the sharp clank of glass hitting stone, I would say the drinking had started without me.
Finding the path cut into the rock face was more a matter of feeling, using my hands and feet in the near pitch black of the shadows. It was always thrilling in some odd, silly way, not being able to see and yet climbing up the small incline, until near the top you were suddenly looking down on the river of lights that was the avenue below running through a sea of a million twinkling lights spreading out into the fog from the city life below.
There were a few kids there, joking and gossiping in low voices often punctuated with loud laughter or squeals. Their sounds were the only thing that marked their presence except for the occassional glint of light on glass or cigarette cherry. My friend hadn’t shown up yet but I was handed a beer by one dark figure. As he leaned in to hand it to me, I could see that it was this quiet guy who was a year ahead of me at school. Shoving my liquid treasure into my pocket, I worked my way to a good spot near another girl, which I could only tell because of her voice and the strong smell of patchouli. The dark night made it too difficult to see any details, but it was delicious, to be a part of the small crowd there in the night and yet, in another way, to feel so anonymous. Had you asked me to tell you how many kids were perched up there, I wouldn’t have had a guess.
The talking continued and I settled into the shadow, listening to the friendly banter and the various sounds of matches striking cigarettes were lit and bottles clinking on stone. Gazing out into the night at all those shimmers of light, my mind began to wander, just like in class, just like it always did when I wasn’t being directly engaged. Each one of those lights represented someone. Each one of those lights was a life and a story. That window light on the hill below… inside was a woman waking to check her newborn, feeling his head, tucking him in, filled with a deep love. That car that just sped it’s way up the avenue, the driver just had the best fucking first date of his life and is so revved up he can’t help but speed. The light that just went off in the apartment complex on the strip, well, he was up at his desk, working hard, getting frustrated and finally gave in to head to sleep and tackle it in the morning…….
A word pierced it’s way into my thoughts, my name being called. The girl next to me was laughing, “Damn, where the fuck is your brain tonight?”
“We were asking if you want another beer…”
- the South