Most of us unfortunately have contact with at least one shitty person on a daily basis. Someone whose stinky, sweatsock-scented juju wafts off of them into your space like itching powder or the fragrance of an old piece of gorgonzola left out in the sun. No matter how positive you try to be, no many how many deep breaths you take or “ommms” you mouth when no one is looking, the stinky juju affects you. There’s really nothing you can do about it; it’s like anthrax, you can’t wave it away. Smile and breathe deeply out alternate nostrils all you want but if you’re forced to share an office with someone who does nothing but scowl and sigh all day (or worse yet, share a home with someone who does the same) you may have to focus on damage control after the fact, not prevention. Stinky juju kicks the ass of happiness every time. It’s just a fact, I don’t make the rules.
I’m one of those people that really tries to be happy. I wake up every day and decide to be happy, and then I think of something I’m thankful for. I admit there’ve been days when the only thing I could come up with was, “I’m really glad I’m not missing a leg” or “I’m grateful I don’t have that virus that eats holes your skin.” A couple weeks ago I started the day with, “I’m really glad only one of my cats died and not both.” But I did it. I try.
However, I do have to venture out into the world because no one pays me to play on Instagram and draw pictures, and I inevitably come across someone who pollutes my happy space with their stinky juju. Perhaps you work alongside shitty people, or even worse, you are forced to reside with shitty people. I had several years where I dealt with both, and that’s when I discovered the relief of walking at night. It’s remedial meditation, designed for people with nowhere to meditate.
I first began walking at night many moons ago, when I was in what could best be described as a subpar situation. I had recently moved back to Philadelphia and agreed to take over half the rent on a townhouse, occupied by someone I “sort of knew.” Translated, that means she knew someone who knew someone I knew…but I was a bartender, I knew a lot of people. You bartend in a major city, you know everyone who has mixed a drink or carried a tray. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re your friends or people you’d want to be friends with. I take partial responsibility, I’m a smart girl and I knew better, but I was somewhat desperate for time and I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I worked 12 hours a day minimum and had college classes on top of that, and was never home. I just needed a place to sleep. I had one day off. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.
I was wrong.
I won’t go into too much detail, because the specifics are something I’m saving for a low-budget horror movie I plan on writing once I can remember the details without involuntarily twitching from a ‘Nam-style flashback and diving under the couch. I’m kidding, but the details aren’t important right now. All I’ll say for background purposes is, this young woman was unpleasant company in every sense of the word, The few hours I was home, I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be anywhere but in that house.
So I started walking. I’d get home late at night and walk up to the 24 hour supermarket to pick out something for dinner, or I’d walk along the the main street in town and just watch the people spilling out of the bars. Sometimes I’d just stroll around the neighborhood, looking at the rows of old houses and watching raccoons dig around in their corresponding garbage bins. It started out as an escape, but I realized after a while it cleared my head. I never stopped.
I’m lucky enough to spend most of my time in an area where walking in the dark doesn’t pose a safety hazard, our “crime blotter” is pretty much limited to shoplifters caught at the local mall. I could probably walk around here naked with money taped to my forehead and no one would bother me, except the police because they’re bored and have few other crimes to attend to. When I’m in the city I limit my walking to populated areas during the reasonably lit hours, which I don’t find as relaxing, but in the suburbs I can walk around all night if I want to. Sometimes I have done just this. I do take my dog with me, who is substantial in size and has a tendency to lunge and snarl at strangers, despite my best attempts to train this out of him. In the off chance a zombie in a Brooks Brothers outfit tries to sneak up on me, I’m covered. I also have my phone in case of an emergency, but I have the ringer off and I only use it to take random pictures of shadows and churches…for no particular reason except that it makes me feel artsy-fartsy.
Nothing clears your head like the dark night air. It blankets all the ugliness you see during the daytime, like the dustings of snow everyone loves because they cover the garbage, dog poop and unkempt lawns. The constant, chaotic noise of the waking hours can no longer be heard, it’s replaced by crickets, the occasional sound of a Canada Goose overhead and the rhythmic sound of my dog’s jingling ID tags. I can see the lights from televisions flickering in the windows of the neighborhood houses from the sidewalk, sometimes I see a family sitting down to dinner through a kitchen window. Someone’s mom washing the dishes, a kid playing with his dog through a sliding glass door. I wonder what these families are like, what they do for fun, what they worry about. When I look up at the stars and the moon I feel very tiny.
At the risk of sounding corny, I guess it reminds me that I’m just one little person, whatever I’m stressed about probably isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.
Try it. You’ll see.