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  • Writer's pictureTodd Stevens

The Little Dark Road

Every night after it gets dark I take a long walk. I follow sidewalks under streetlights as they curve this way and that through the lines of tan stucco houses. I walk the same path every single night, it’s become an almost involuntary action. I know every crack, and every rise and fall of the path along the way. I think about all sorts of things as I move along. Maybe it’s the rhythm of walking, maybe the rising and falling of my breath, I don’t know for sure, but there’s something about those long solitary walks that gives me clarity and a release of stress. My mind wanders back to memories I haven’t recalled in decades, and then back to things happening now, in the present. About halfway through the walk I cross the road and climb down a little embankment onto a dirt trail. During the day that trail is busy with walkers and people on bikes, but I’m always the only one walking it in the dark. The traffic and sounds of the neighborhood start to fade, and within a half mile the only sound is the gravel crunching under my shoes. The trail dead ends against a little hill, so I climb the hill in the dark purely by feel and memory, and come out on a little dark road that isn’t much wider than a sidewalk. The desert has encroached on the sides of the road and creosote bushes and mesquite have narrowed it so much it would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. I follow it along for a quarter mile or so until it reaches a place where someone has placed big white, smooth boulders across it to prevent anyone from going further. I always stop at that spot and sit on one of the boulders and listen to the quiet. Sometimes an owl calls from a big nurse tree up on a barren hillside. I’ve never seen it, but it sounds sad and lonely. I sit there and I stare up at that massive sky and for fractions of seconds I’m able to grasp how truly small and insignificant I am in all that vastness. I think about all the people I’ve known who are no longer in this world, all the faces and names I carry with me, a roll call of loss. I have no illusions that they’re up there looking down, or watching over me or anything like that…but I do have a sense of closeness to them out there in the dark that I don’t have in other places, I don’t know why. I think about the courage it takes to carry on living, surrounded by the loss of so many loved ones and friends, and those losses multiply with time. I used to think long life was a blessing, but now I’m not so sure. I stare up for a long time and I think of all those people I’ve brought out there with me. Each one of them was an important part of me, and when they leave it’s like a beautiful quilt being deconstructed one patch at a time. I have a ritual when I’m out there. I look up into those glittering heavens and I remember. I remember a smile, an afternoon playing, a rainy day watching TV, sourdough pancakes…a worn out Raider hat, a moment. Then I say their names out loud, not screaming, not in a prayer, not in some strange worshipful manner, I just speak them aloud, and they resonate, like ringing a bell. I want to stop speaking names into the night sky, but someday, somewhere, I hope somebody remembers me and speaks mine into that vast sky.

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