Robin Michel


The Night Walk

It was a long, lonely winter followed by an endless Groundhog Day of a spring. But now, just maybe, could it be summer?

I’m eighteen years old. I was seventeen in March of 2020. I was seventeen when the world stopped.

I hate the coronavirus. I don’t want to talk about the coronavirus. After 407 days living in broken time, I am tired. We are all tired. When people ask me how I’m doing I say, “By new world standards, I’m thriving.”

It’s 8 p.m. on a Saturday and I’m going for a walk. The sun is setting. The trees are still winter trees, naked and thin. The limbs split from one another into wishbone branches, pointing everywhere and nowhere, black against the sky.

I can hear the small chirps of the pinkletinks in a nearby pond. I pay attention to the surrounding orchestra until I can hear every section. The bullfrogs croak a slow steady bassline. An invisible choir of cicadas lets out a constant hum, high pitched, like electricity running through the wires of a quiet room. I hear birds calling. I have no idea what kinds of birds they are. I wish I knew things like that.

I pull my phone out of the front pocket of my plaid pajama bottoms, untangle my headphones, and plug my ears with music. The private band plays.

I want to relax. I want the world to be beautiful tonight. I want this road to be beautiful tonight. I wish it were all new. I want a new world. I want a new road and a new head with new eyes to look through. I’m sick of repetition. It’s hard for familiar things to be beautiful. Love is attention, and when something is familiar, attention is hard. You forget. When you forget, the walls disappear around you, where you are becomes where you have always been, you are blind, you are your own white noise. It is easy to forget, and so I am trying to pay attention. I am trying very hard.

I’m not trying. It’s impossible to try. The song I’m listening to is the same song I listened to three times in a row this morning. I’d like to say I’m trying to appreciate, or to see, to see something real, or new, or undiscovered, but I’m not.

I should be grateful, maybe that’s what I’m trying for. I have a beautiful view. Looking up at the sky I realize I’m smiling. I really should be grateful. My sky is clear, and unpolluted, the stars are shining through. I’m lucky. Many people don’t get to see my sky, don’t get to know true darkness, or observe the observable universe.

I start thinking about ancient astronomers, dripping with rotten vegetables people tossed at them or buried in unmarked graves, the consequences of suggesting our world was not the center of the universe. It’s a difficult thing to swallow, our insignificance, our tiny place in our tiny corner of the cosmos. We are still struggling to swallow. As a species we work tirelessly to avoid feeling small. In many places we have created so much of our own light, lights that don’t extinguish, and cities that don’t sleep, that we have killed the stars and made the world past our own almost completely invisible. I don’t blame us. We have to be the center of our universe, it’s not a choice. Everyone is trapped in their own minds and bodies, at the will of chemicals and social programming, stuck between a future we can only hope for and hundreds of years of self-destructive history we never seem to learn from. We are tied constantly to ourselves and the never-ending awkwardness of the present. This is the curse of consciousness. We are cursed with an inherent narcissism, a need for love, purpose, acceptance, and freedom. We understand our common needs, and yet other people remain as mysterious as distant stars and celestial bodies, composed of the same basic elements and structures as ourselves, but still unreachable, on separate tracks and orbits, our tiny lights traveling years to any eyes that might see.

I can’t recognize many constellations. I can spot Orion and the Big Dipper, maybe the Little Dipper too. Tonight I am drawn to the spaces between the stars, the pitch black, the vacuum. It’s a place beyond our logic and physical laws, dominated by energy. A place that would rip me apart and drown me of all oxygen. A place I will never touch.

The universe is expanding, apparently. It’s a pretty well known fact, but it’s not like it’s something I’d figure out on my own, or something I could explain. All I know is that the distance between us and everything is growing. That dark, unknowable place is growing.

I’ve never imagined heaven before, I’ve never believed in it, and I was never led to believe. I think if I believed in heaven I would take comfort in an expanding universe. Do souls need a place to go? In a static universe there would be no place for them, they would stay where we put them, as dust inside of urns or bodies in boxes six feet under the earth. Now if people ask me if I believe in an afterlife I’ll say, “Heaven is a dark black void.”

I should probably go inside soon. I’m going to the beach with a friend tomorrow. I’ll have to cut up strawberries and dig my bathing suit out of a bin in the basement. I should get to sleep. I pull my earbuds out of my ears; I barely listened to the music anyway. The cicadas resume their screams. They never stopped; I just stopped listening. I walk back toward the house, the house I have always lived in, the house that could only grow smaller as I grew up. I open and close the door slowly to minimize the squeaks. I tiptoe to my bedroom. I scroll for a moment on my phone. Today more bombs fell on Gaza and my cousin’s baby took her first steps. I turn off my phone, stare at the ceiling, and fall into sleep.