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02 February 2012

Finding peace. Or at least, something less than chaos


Sometimes, recently, I've felt pretty decent. Optimistic, hopeful, interested. Most often that's this time of night, when the world around me is mostly quiet. The city, here, is asleep by about 0300. Party reputation noted, but after bar time things settle down a bit most nights. There are a few places that are open all night in my neighborhood. Campus police headquarters is a block or so away. The phone company has a building not far away from here, and of course where I work there are people working all night. Physical plant, which makes sure the insides of campus buildings are warm in winter and cold in summer has someone on duty, I'm sure. Finally, the major sports buildings have a person or two. It all adds up to a fair number of people, although certainly smaller than the numbers of people that work around here during the day. There are the computers. Many systems are 24/7/365 now, and while traffic may decrease during the small hours of the morning, the bits are still flowing back and forth. Animals, bugs, bacteria, and the occasional person do move around. No place is ever asleep, really. There's always a pair of eyes here and there.

I like this time of night, because it is quiet. Years ago, when I was in high school and weekends were spent at my Dad's house in the city I'd often be up all night Friday and Saturday nights. Weekends were the times I had freedom to do what I enjoyed, which was sitting at my computer for hours on end, exploring the country by way of telephone wires. Sometimes I'd go for walks alone around my neighborhood, in the middle of the night. Was that safe? I never had a problem from anyone. I suppose now if a parent found out they had a kid wandering the streets at night, they'd suspect drugs or gangs were to blame. My Dad, a pretty quiet guy himself, never seemed to mind. I'd like to think that's because he knew his kid had sense enough to avoid trouble.

When I was 12 or so, after my parents had split up and my Mom was hooking up with her new boyfriend (didn't respect him then, and don't now), I was depressed a lot. I thought long and serious about running away, becoming a street kid. There were still commercials then that aired at 2300, letting you know it was eleven o'clock-- time to wonder where your children were. I had a plan, that I thought about and revised and improved long into high school. I knew I could steal enough money for a bus ticket somewhere, and that if I followed railroad tracks they'd eventually lead somewhere. I still remember the number, which I saw on a commercial and memorized in case I ever needed it- 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Turned out that getting through high school and on to college was a better deal. Once I'd managed to secure being at my Dad's place every weekend, I had a refuge. But I still liked walking the streets at night.

Being a kid and walking the streets of Milwaukee all night was really dangerous, although I never thought of it that way. I saw the graffiti various places and never knew what it was about. Sort of scary now, knowing that the best way to clear my head then was walking on someone's turf in the middle of the night.

Now, I don't walk the streets at night except for the occasional walk to the local convenience store, and even then I often drive. The store down the street gets robbed every couple of years, and it's overdue. There have been assaults in my neighborhood as well. Usually the victim is a young woman walking home, alone. Even in the dark, I'd never be confused for a young woman, but I don't want to be confused with a rich old guy either.

The thing about being a night owl is that the daytime world doesn't usually understand you. Daytime has schedules, requirements, structure. Bosses work during the day, because that's when things get done. They expect you to be awake in the morning and functional all day. Professors expect that too, although I believe professors are more likely to understand that there are night people and day people. There is a 24-hour library here, so somebody understands.

In Saudi Arabia, I lived in a villa with an accessible flat rooftop. Above that was an even taller spot, and I'd often climb up there at night and look out over the desert. There wasn't much to see, but there were red lights blinking on the distant horizon. To me, that said radio towers-- antennas. I eventually bought a pair of binoculars, to look out farther into the desert. I don't remember seeing anything that was that spectacular. It was peaceful, though.

Sometimes, that's all I want. Peace, and quiet. Staring at nothing, watching the faraway lights flicker.

*

This post didn't start out as being about running away, but kids do suffer from depression, PTSD, and altogether bad situations. My childhood wasn't fun, but may kids have it much worse; sometimes life on the street seems better then the life you're running away from. The National Runaway Switchboard is answered by good people who can help. You can reach them at 1-800-RUNAWAY or on the web at http://www.1800runaway.org/ .


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