Sometimes, late at night, when my body is restless, I leave my dorm building in the dark to go for a walk. I try not to walk far. When I have manic days that end in my eyes carving designs into the ceiling as my fingernails draw blood from my upper arms in an attempt to remember that I am, in fact, still human, I leave my dorm building in the dark to walk blindly until the sun rises.
Even before my diagnosis, I would walk like this only while the moon was high, down from the campus student center to the CVS downtown across from the liquor store. I would sit on the bench across the street and watch the lights change colors, blinking in and out like dying stars. Nights like those, I would wander and let myself melt into someone else: a person who doesn’t have bipolar disorder, a person with a destination ahead of them, a person-sized star pointing to what could be north.
Some nights I am a god, if only to get the mania out; a god who has abandoned her creations and worshippers to hide away where she will never be found. And then, the horrible thought shoots into my head: the best way to abandon people who love me is to walk far enough away to do exactly that, and then dance in the empty streets with a seemingly endless joy until the lights come on. How many bus stops have I passed? How many train stations? That intersection near the train tracks looks like the perfect place to shout and whoop and sing, doesn’t it? What time is it? Aren’t people leaving for work soon?
The darkness tastes different from these kinds of walks, but then again, everything does on walks like these. Every inhale of the night carries a new flavor. On most divine nights, it’s new smoke from a pack of Marlboro Reds taken by seducing the cashier at my local Exon. On those divine nights, once the smoke dances into the rings of my hair, I walk with long languid drags to a place to sit and create nothing again.
A god can sit and stare at nothing for hours, creating every freckle of dust the night carries under the orange streetlamp, weaving them together with red thread pulled from her lungs. Marlboro Reds don’t taste like ambrosia, but they do comfort me. With godhood comes shaky hands that often have trouble opening the damn pack and a continuous rush of disconnected thoughts. A passing thought glides underneath the ridiculously bright haze of the mania: death would just be a release from godhood, and at the end of everything, why would I want to see Jesus looking like a coward? I’m good at creating nothing that matters, unless the dust freckles make the streetlamps orange after all. Please, let me be good at something for once.
On the walk when I bought menthols instead of Reds, I stopped in a shabby, low-lit parking lot and sat on a raised section of the pavement that divided one building from the other. The gravel crunched under my sandals, and the cement was cold against my ass as my dress rode up to sit. The minty taste in the smoke was supposed to be comforting. It wasn’t; my hands were still shaking.
The white headlights of a car wiped my mind. It pulled into the parking lot in small jerks, and an oily man, mid-thirties maybe, rolled his passenger window down and leaned over to speak over the hum of his engine.
“Need a ride?”
His car was warm. He didn’t make me put my cigarette out.
I would have thanked him if he hadn’t kept driving past the campus. He ignored me when I continuously repeated that he missed my stop. I dropped my lighter at the stoplight but stayed quiet. Where was my god now? Where was I?
The destination was the dark parking lot of an elementary school. The glare of the headlights reflected off the cheerful sign; we weren’t as far from the school as I thought. I clicked out my seatbelt and tried to find an exit without moving too much.
The oily man unbuckled his seatbelt, too. And then his hand went to the belt buckle of his jeans. He shifted toward the driver’s door pocket off to the side and pulled out a wad of one dollar bills as thick as both of my wrists tied together. He tried to push the money into my hands.
“What is this for?” I asked stupidly.
He tried to push the wad of cash into my hands again with one hand, and made a motion with the other hand, up and down and up and down near his oily mouth, his tongue pressing into the inside of his oily cheek. That hand then went to unbuckle his belt.
“I’m sorry.” I told him. I was holding the money gingerly. “I really have to go home.”
I set the money in the cupholder and reached for my door handle. He picked up the money and tried to give it to me again, this time trying to shove it into my free hand.
I got the door open. I made a sprint for the sidewalk across the street and weaved my way onto a road back to the school. I don’t remember everything he yelled at me, though. I just remember being grateful to the divinity that ruled my divinity as my worn leather sandals smacked the pavement.
In the winter, during these walks, my dream destination is behind the dumpster of the Kroger quite a walk from the campus; I hate the cold, and frostbite is a bitch, but it would be harder to find me. Who would think to look for a college student’s frozen body behind a Kroger dumpster? Rapid-fire thoughts bring up the clear sound of my mother’s laughter and then her face and the smell of woodsmoke on her clothes when she would come back from burning leaves in the yard. Guilt chases after that thought, and on those kinds of walks, I turn around and walk back to campus, or sometimes to the train station with a wet and sloppy phone call to my mom.
Some nights, when I walk, I am a princess of a faraway land, a land of faeries and dreams so bright I don’t want to see anything else. The middle of the asphalt road becomes the cobblestone outside of my palace. The cars, simply horses and carriages in the right place at the right time. There are too many trees if I decide to walk in the direction of the community garden, so they all become houses and buildings with my loyal subjects all made to be ignored. There aren’t any real memories attached to this kind of mania for me, simply because nothing is truly real. All that exists is my kingdom, and this is all that will exist until I wake to the sunlight again.
Most nights, however, I am simply my mother’s daughter; I am just myself in my favorite red sweatpants I haven’t washed in two days and my sweatshirt I wore to class that day, my hair a fluffy wreck, my hands still shaking from the amount of anxiety I carry about today’s French test, walking with a purpose. One foot after the other on the sidewalk, passing by the many houses on my right and the trees on my left, I move slowly, counting how many sunflowers I can see framing the darkness. In my head, I thank every person who took the time to plant their flowers at the front of the garden near the sidewalk, and then apologize for stopping to touch them. The fuzziness of the sunflower stalks reminds me of my sunflower I grew myself at home. I gave it to my mother to protect while I studied abroad. She sounded so guilty when she told me it died.
“I tried everything. I think it was the cold temperature change.”
I keep walking after stopping by the sunflowers, thanking them for the memory.
The wind blows and I pull my jacket around me, still walking. I hop over puddles, or sometimes in them if I’m doing laundry the next day. I stop for a turning car. It does not beep. I thank the driver for not beeping. I then remember to thank the ivy I walked by, and then apologize for accidentally stepping on it because I couldn’t see.
There are many paths into the community garden; I take the closest side after thanking the pink rose azaleas on the side of someone’s concrete wall.
This place is my home and temple. This is where no one will find me, no one will ask anything of me, where I am safe and out of harm.
When I take the train home on the weekends or during the night walks that demand it, as soon as I am home, I go to my mom. On Saturdays, we are lazy, watching television until her exhaustion and my mood swings ease. She cooks and I eat too much and I fall asleep on the couch, and the sunlight doesn’t hurt. On Sundays, I am outside on the porch checking on the plants she has repotted, giving them cinnamon, eggshells, coffee grounds, things I learned to feed the plants through research and tradition. I try to remember to thank my mother over and over and over again. I try to honor her in the plants I grow myself. I try to honor her in every plant I find.
Here, I find my concrete bench and sit. I say hello to the trees. I thank them for allowing me into the garden that night, and let them know that the darkness of the night has made me feel small and nervous like a cornered bird, that this is the reason I came to them. I ask that they provide some kind of comfort. The silence blankets me heavily, but I breathe with ease.
And in the dark, I can see my mother’s face. She seems taller here, and her cloak of leaves dyed with the orange-gold of the streetlamps makes her look as regal as I would. She doesn’t say anything and I just sit with her in the quiet of the night, thanking every plant in the garden for simply growing near me.
The hours compact. Time doesn’t exist with the way the night eats.
The sun rises, and the light doesn’t hurt my eyes.