Girl Walks Home Alone: An Ode to the Upper West Side

I go on walks late at night. 11 p.m. is too early; there’s still a buzz then, swirling bodies prancing and gabbing up and down the street. I want pitch dark; I want the darkness to bleed into my bones. The lamppost and stars can be my company, and then I’ll be content in the silence, invisible like a phantom unstuck in air.

I travel in circles, kicking out restless energy one step at a time. Sidewalks don’t have names anymore; I recognize the places. There’s the gate where someone once pulled me back for a kiss. And the church that felt so peaceful the first time I sat on a pew. That’s the building where I once got lost and laughed, because it was okay to be lost in those days. And that park—I never did visit the peacocks.

A few streets below is my favorite Thai restaurant, where I usually meet my friends to grin and almost never cry. There’s the corner where pitiable, harmless men heckle; they wouldn’t dare touch me after my eyes make them weak. And here, the daisies. This store has the prettiest daisies, but I’ve never bought a bouquet.

I started going on walks when I moved to New York City for school. I would jaunt around campus, waving at security guards and smiling, or sometimes not smiling. I’d pause to look out on our library from across the quad, its lights dancing in the hazy winter wind. The sight made me feel calm for the first time in my life.

But campus became too small, and too repetitive. I knew people. They would stop me, on my walks, at 11 p.m., and I would politely nod and say, “How are you?” and my mind was not with them. The question was not whether I liked them or wanted to see them. I liked them very much, but I needed the navy sky to envelop me so I could feel like I existed and didn’t exist in the very same moment, and I couldn’t do that over conversation.

So now I walk later, around a wider circumference. And I put my headphones in, and they make me feel real things for the first time in 24 hours. If I’m anxious, I listen to “Later On;” or “Raise Hell” when I’m stir-crazy; or “Stone Cold” when I’m very, very sad and nostalgic.

I start the walk shaking and frozen, my body protesting, pleading for the warmth of my apartment. But as I keep moving, my cheeks feel warm and all of a sudden I can’t feel my face and it’s glorious. It’s glorious, to feel and not feel all at once. And my eyes—I can see without a veil shrouding them. The veil of stress, of tension, lifts. I’m free.

Rarely, I invite others to join me on my walks. They have to be a particular type of person, the walking type. I don’t mean avid exercisers; most anyone with lungs should be able to keep up with me in my heels. They have to be the type of person who could talk, who could say something interesting that made me want to sigh instead of scream.

But usually, I walk alone. I look at stones and bricks and towers and cracks in the concrete and think of bittersweet memories, and it fills me with hope. I peer up at the architecture that hangs above and wonder how bad man can be if he can make something so beautiful. I stare past that, squinting, and imagine a light lodged in the blue expanse. Maybe it’s a star, but probably it’s an airplane. I don’t care—to me, it’s a star, and I make a wish.

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