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My boots crunched against the crusty snow with every step. I tried to ignore the sound, and not let it ruin my perception of this silent night. The moon lay low ahead, illuminating the swirling flakes that were falling from the sky. My heart picked up a bit every time my foot crashed into the fallen wintry mix, as if it could crack open and I would fall into whatever lay below. That's what my life had felt like a lot lately, actually; like my next move might be the one that broke the ice. Like I was dangerously close to an edge I couldn't see, and the safe ground was getting smaller.
It took a moment before I realized what I was doing, and it made me laugh at myself. I needed an escape from everything that had been happening, from that building and all the memories it brought back with everything from the stairs to the pictures to the dust bunnies. I had paced around there too much lately, finding something else to remind me with every step, trying to figure everything out while I hadn’t even come to terms with it. Pacing was a lot like thinking, for me: a whole lot of energy exerted without moving anywhere significant. That’s why I was out here, now. Maybe someplace new could bring me some clarity. And, supposing I didn’t get attacked by a mugger, tonight would be another full circle, just like pacing around that quiet, empty room. But hopefully this circle would bring something new into my life. Something that could change this feeling into something I could handle.
I pulled myself away from my eternal internal battles to the night I was in. The sound of my feet moving captured my attention as I walked. The end of the street grew closer, and the steady rhythm of my pace slipped away from my mind. There were figures at the end of the street, and whatever it was they were doing there, I didn’t want them to see me. Maybe they knew me, or I knew them. Then again, maybe they didn’t… but there weren’t too many people around here who hadn’t heard about what happened. That was the curse of a small town. Either way, it wasn’t a chance I was too willing to take.
I turned to the right, off the well-lit main street and into an alleyway that looked like it hadn’t seen human life in centuries, though I knew there were people who lived in there somewhere. I padded along, listening for anything that sounded suspicious, even though I really didn’t know what qualified for that. Was that the wind whistling, or a person? Is that thump someone being pounded against the wall, or a block of snow falling off a slanted roof?
Footsteps echoed behind me, quicker than my relaxed pace. Stopping slowly, I faced the wall in front of me. I was tempted to whirl around, see what was behind me, but was there a point to that? Was it worth it to face it, or would it be easier to just let this person kill me if they wanted to, and let my last rebellion be to not let them get their satisfaction by seeing my fear when I died?
“Hey, you.” It was a familiar voice, one that scared me more than any murderer could, these days. It was the reason I’d turned this way in the first place, to avoid the people on the street corner, just in case. How ironic was that, that I wasn’t afraid of whether those figures were suspicious or dangerous, but I was terrified of facing people I knew? I didn’t turn around, just started crunching my feet against the pavement once again. One in front of the other, breathe in, breathe out. Keep moving.
“You can’t ignore me forever, you know. You can’t ignore everyone forever. And like it or not, you can’t run away from your life. What you’re doing now- you aren’t living, and you know it. Well, the you I used to know would have known it. The person I know would have known something was missing, and go and find it. But whoever you are, in the body my friend used to live in, I don’t know if you see that. And I’m trying not to care anymore, and I hate to admit that. But live the shadow of your life for however long you want to, but if you take too long, I can’t guarantee I’ll still be here.” The footsteps started up again and gradually faded, as my heartbeat faded back to a decibel level I couldn’t hear. It was over, a confrontation that I had been expecting for a while. The words felt like foam darts against my steel frame, just pieces that bounced off without doing any real damage. It felt strange, not feeling anything, but maybe it was better than the alternative. These kinds of things always were.
I walked on. It seemed that that’s what I was always doing, just moving on in the face of every piece of adversity. That meant I was thick-skinned, that I was strong, right? That nothing could beat me.
I heard a throat clear, and a noise I had only heard in movies and TV shows. It was a loud click, like the sound it makes when you flick open a lighter, but that wasn’t what it was. Definitely not. Its connotation was undeniable, and I felt my palms warm up in spite of the freezing cold temperatures.
“You aren’t afraid, kid?” It was a deep male voice, one I didn’t recognize. I hadn’t turned around, and my palms weren’t shaking.
“No.” I spat it, confident and assured, without looking at him, and in that instant, I felt it, too. I wasn’t scared- what the hell did I have to lose? There wasn’t much left in my life to fight for now.
“Then you aren’t worth killing, because you aren’t living.” Whoever heard of a philosophical criminal? I turned to see his face, and all I saw was the wind picking up the snow and rearranging it into dunes.
Now I was going crazy. Lovely. I kept walking, and saw the outlet onto the main street I had left earlier. That voice, imagined or not, echoed in my head, bouncing around like a ping-pong ball off the walls of my skull. I wasn’t getting the easy out I wanted. Did I want that? I just wanted normalcy, wanted something to change for the better. Did that mean I just wanted this all to end?
The lights blinded me as I got back to the street. I was used to the gloom of the alley, and my eyes adjusted slower than I would’ve liked. The moon still hung high, and I watched it as I walked, never seeming to come closer, no matter how many buildings I passed.
I took my eyes off perfection, and looked at what the artificial lights illuminated. It was the sidewalk where I’d fallen off my bike as a kid and broken my arm, the ice cream store where I dropped my first double scoop and had my first kiss a few years later, and had that first fateful meeting a few years later still. The hardware store where I’d gotten my first job was a few doors down, and my first apartment was the floor above. This was a row of firsts, the place I’d grown up. Did it make sense for this to be a place of lasts, too?
A couple walked by on the other side of the street, barely sparing a moment to glance at me. And you’d think that would make me more hopeless, more invisible. But really, they were just so enthralled with each other that the world didn’t matter anymore. It moved on without them, spinning around them as they were lost in themselves. They probably didn’t have the perfect relationship, but they made do. They found happiness in not chasing perfection.
Maybe that was me, lost in myself, letting the world spin by without me as I made the choice to be secluded from it, to pull myself away. The world hadn’t pushed me out; no kind of adversity can stand up to human will. I hadn’t been stood up by the world, I’d given up, leaving behind everything I’d known. I stopped in the middle of the street, looking at that glowing orb, the thing I could walk toward for my entire life and never reach, and for once, I made sure I was the one who decided.
Life goes on, no matter what you’re going through. I turned around, heading back towards that old rickety building, but that wasn’t my destination. I sat down among the figures I hadn’t seen in ages, due to my self-proclaimed exile, and accepted the hugs from everyone. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t accepted the events yet. It didn’t matter that I sure as hell wasn’t anywhere close to whole. There’s one thing about life that’s for sure: it goes on. You’re never going to be perfectly happy, but someday, things will get better. The moon’s still gonna shine, the snow will still fall and the wind will still blow. The world will move on, whether you’re a member of it or not. It’s your choice. And sometimes, all it takes to start that journey is a few footsteps forward.