“Nightstalker” – Essay, 2018

Essay, Fall 2018

Chris Heckmann

            I suppose you could say it’s because I love the taste of cheap beer or maybe I just can’t cope with an empty bed. Regardless, I’m drowning around the aluminum rim of a travel cup and jaunting around the city streets sometime far beyond lights out. When my lips touch the cold before the rush of liquid, I taste nothing but the blood-metal of chilled iron. Booze clears me of the blood like a river washing away the sins of its father. I am whelmed by the taste of wheat or barley, a distinction I truly never care to know. As I begin my aimless walk across the Boston streets, my fingers lose capability of motion. Under the light, snow-flakes trickle like matter trying to stick but falling apart.

            There are many tables that surround the Harvard Medical quad. There is one table in particular, on the left side about halfway down the strip, that I’m always drawn back to. When I switch the song on my phone, I can see that it is sometime past two A.M. Magnetically, I sit in the faux-mahogany chair and let the snow fall before me. The door to the research lab is parallel to my left. I study this image. Suddenly, the snow burns up, light envelopes me and the black night sky is gone and replaced with a baby blue. She walks out pouting in the you really came to pick me up for work way that made me feel okay. I don’t move a muscle in my body. She moves closer to me and takes the coffee from my right hand that I motioned to her. She kisses me on the cheek and tells me that she loves me. And then she’s gone as if she were never more than a phantom. I gather myself and continue on into the city streets.

            Across a busy intersection there is an apartment building that I spent many sleepless nights in. From the outside, you could mistake it for a prison. The walls are dark brick, rustic and chipping away. My wallet slips out from my pocket. In the third wedge to the left side, a polaroid. It shows the date, December 2016 like an individual acknowledgement that one day I will want to look back on this photo and remember where I was. She was wearing a beige sweater with a brown line crossing horizontally across her chest. Her head was tilted to the right, smiling from ear to ear, looking directly through the camera into me. And in the moment after, she rushed me like there was nothing else she would rather be doing, nowhere else she would rather be.

            Outside of a CVS, I see another person crossing the wide city street. What is he doing out so late at night? At that intersection and in retrospect, many others, I ran into a friend of mine who she had slept with. Less accurately you could call him “one of her exes.” At a party once, he was the only one there who wasn’t drinking. I remember thinking that being sober was hard and that it wasn’t something many people have the self-control to do. I think I was jealous.

            I can see up into a gym from the edge of the parking lot. At an event once after we first broke up, I saw her staring at me, down to the left, a considerable distance away. She covered her face and ran, tears streaming down. I looked around at my friends and acquaintances who were waiting for my reaction. I got up and ran out after her. I held her as hundreds of people poured in and out of the gym. We went upstairs away from all the traffic and laid down on the floor of a side hallway, shoulder to shoulder. I said, “Maybe we could get coffee like once a week” or something like that. She pouted and shifted her body laterally. She looked at me and asked if she could kiss me. The question seemed silly. I knew that kiss would make her bleed so I considered holding back but then I put myself first and kissed her. I told her how we had never watched Annie Hall. She said one day we would. I told her the joke from its ending anyways knowing that we would likely never see it.

            “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says ‘well why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says ‘well I would but I need the eggs.’” But after that scene, Diane Keaton walks away and Woody Allen doesn’t follow and although it’s never said, I think they both find their eggs somewhere else.

            At night, when I look up at the immense buildings I can’t help but feel swallowed by the city. I absorb the architecture, the music, the history in a single moment and it is a sensation that is somehow higher than my understanding. It’s like trying to wrap my head around my purpose in life, our purpose in life. It’s incomprehensible. I’m stopped. It doesn’t seem like this relationship is so important anymore when there is a whole universe to explore and experience. I think I should probably go to sleep,but then I am overwhelmed by the potential of the night.

            There is a man in front of me, far enough away that I can only make out his silhouette. He walks with the kind of step that you would probably expect from somebody at this time of night, frantic and disjointed. I move at a quicker pace than him, foot by foot until only a building’s length separates us. He looks back and notices my presence. He begins to move at a slightly faster rate, the kind of increase that says I want to get away but I don’t want to alert you to my fear. I walk with my usual strut, loose but confident. When I get close enough to pass, he turns right and scurries down an alleyway. I watch his figure slip into the shadows while I remain under the city lights.

            In a moment outside of myself, I wonder why I am torturing myself by walking through memories. But I realize that no matter where I go, those places are with me. Under my drunken breath, I let out a cool fresh air. It feels good even though it bites the back of my throat. I’m a cliche. I am the drunk depressed writer who can’t get away from his memories. And I don’t want to be that. I move on from the breath somewhere in the direction of my bed.            

Near the end of the night, I think about how it’s funny how places can become memories and memories can become places. I sit on a silver bench with grates in the back and let the cloth of my jacket poke through the tiny holes like deflated wool bubbles that have already been popped. It’s a well-lit street, which is something that matters on a city street past three A.M., unless maybe some early bird commuters are making their way to work. I stare at the awning of the bus stop and watch the lights flicker with rhythm. I realize that there are no memories here other than the one I am creating now. I let that sink in sometime between night and sunrise because I’m not quite ready to go home yet.

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