I walk home from work on a chill midwinter night, music tucked inside my ears, wind whipping my hair and skinning my lips; a night when the sky is so dark and so deep you feel the earth will defy gravity to rid you from its surface, to fling you out into the depths. It’s dizzying and exhilarating. Nowhere in the world do I feel lonelier than in my hometown; an environment so familiar I can reproduce every detail behind closed eyes, where I feel any absence with the startling burn of a fresh wound. Where days, weeks and months become so routine that one wrong step, one new route, or one missing link attracts the gaze of a curious spotlight amid the ordinary gloom.
For momentum I listen to songs with words I wish I’d written myself, or at least been able to recall at the right moments. I hum, sometimes sing, walk to the beat and try to keep my hands in my pockets, both for warmth and to suppress my lazy, embarrassing conducting. I pass personal landmarks, red flags along my lifeline, indulging in each memory for only as long as it takes me to ramble by. The lights of the street, the shops and passing cars strobe in and out of the icy dark; Tom Waits compels tears that turn them all to fuzzy red, white and amber stars.
Somewhere near halfway I lose my resolve to finish the task, though I’ve come much too far to turn back. I stop, look up into the sooty snow-globe sky and will a huge hand to shake it. To flick a giant wrist and toss me into the air, topsy-turvy with the glitter and the faux snow, then set the globe down and let me come to rest in a home I no longer live in. I am stuck. I scroll and scroll to find the soundtrack to my next leg; I skip to the end of the alphabet to the only voice I want whispering in my ear. In the cold inky darkness I walk ‘til I’m sore.
My alarm bleats and drags me into the new day; I slide out of bed and back into the routine I depend on. All the dark hours have been smothered by the morning and the loneliness is tucked deep inside where the light can’t touch it. At Two Chaps, a café in a garage on a quiet street on my way to the office, I hop lightly from one foot to the other in anticipation of my never-less-than-a-solid-7 flat white ($4). The first shaft of sunlight squeezes stubbornly between buildings and throws itself at my feet in sharp-angled shapes. I turn my face to the warmth, grateful for a reliable coffee and another try.