The first couple of years that I was in college, I would do something incredibly stupid from time to time. Well, I suppose whether you think it’s stupid or not depends on when you were raised…no, the reason why you might think it was stupid would depend on when you were raised, I think.
I would take off on cold Friday nights and walk out to the river.
The walk was, I don’t know, maybe three miles or so. Not terribly far. I’d walk out of the dorms, through most of town, down the hill, and on the county road that led south to the Missouri. For some reason, I think every time I went that it was warm, I went with other people. In the cold, sometimes people came with me, but mostly I went by myself. At least, that’s how I remember it.
I walked and walked and walked, past town and down the hill and over the bridge to the creek and on and on, until finally I turned right and walked down a farmer’s dirt road, then across a couple of fields, duck through a barbed wire fence, and into the woods. There were paths through the woods. I went out once when the snow was falling in a quiet hiss and the brush caught most of it before it hit the ground. The lights from town were orange and lit up against the backside of the clouds, which more or less what lit my way.
I heard at one point that drunken frat boys had taken a gay guy out into the woods and murdered him, stringing him up from a tree branch with barbed wire. Or else it was an Indian guy. I never found out for sure if either story was true. This was a time when girls were scared to walk from one side of campus to the other; you could call campus security, and they’d walk you from one dorm to another. But what about the campus security guys? I always wondered. One, what if one of them decided to rape you? And two, what if one of them got attacked in the night? My thought was, stay away from frat parties and stay out of other people’s rooms when they’re drunk, male or female. It did me well. I heard another story about a girl who was murdered and stuffed up in the air ducts in one of the dorms that I actually had to give more credit to. She’d been staying over the summer, and…anyway.
I’d walk through the paths and out to the bank of the Missouri.
The river would be black with specks of light. Silver light from the moon or the stars, orange light from the dull, reflected glow of the street lamps. And sometimes just…light. I’d avoid any partiers and work my way down to the beach from the banks.
The waterway would change. Sometimes I’d go, and a tree on the bank, maybe twenty feet up, would be fallen in, and I’d climb down on it. Or it’d be gone and I’d have to work around another quarter-mile or so, trying to find a place. The bank would be all dirt; the beach was sand or silt.
I’d get my feet wet, through my shoes, and watch the water moving downstream, and listen to the cows honking at each other. I called them the Satan cows, because the echo off the water would twist the sound around.
Something would happen, and I’d suddenly feel cold and frustrated that I had to walk all the damned way back.
And then I’d go home. Only, you never called the dorms “home.” It was “the dorms” or “back to your room.” My legs were so cold that my jeans would rug-burn my legs as I walked; the insides of my knees and my upper thighs were always raw. I’d go home and be starvingly hungry, with no money and no way to get anything to eat until the meal halls opened up in the morning. Or I’d eat cereal smuggled out in the college mug. One or the other. My lips would bleed from being cracked open and I wouldn’t have any lip balm.
One of the nights was right before Christmas. On the way back, I was hit with the realization that I hungered for those lights. On the way out I hadn’t cared. But I’ve never felt apathetic about Christmas lights again.
What was I looking for out there? It wasn’t until I walked out there with Lee that I realized how…pointless it was. Alone, in the dark. Woo. And yet something dragged me out there for about two years straight, maybe twice a month. Always Friday nights. I would talk myself out of being around people, just so I would be lonely enough to go.
The water, the walking, the coming home and pulling back the layers of scarves and hats and hoods from my head. I had gone, and then I had come back. I went and faced something (or fed it, or both), and always felt quite accomplished when I came back.
It was never as much of a walk, in the daylight.
I’m not sure why I had to write about this tonight, but I did. The lights are out, the cat is snoring, and I’m typing by the glow of the monitor. And that’s right, too.