I hated them for it. I knew nothing about them, but I despised them with every spinning strand of atomic energy powering my body. They didn’t even know me. I didn’t even know them. They could be fighting their own demons, wars, battles, and devils. They could be in worse situations than me. They could be warped and chained by poverty. They could be struggling for water in some distant wasteland that rivals the red sands of Mars. They could be starving. They could be riddled with disease. They could be in any circle of hell on this earth.
It didn’t matter. They weren’t me beneath that humming streetlight afraid to go home.
I used to live in a house in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. It was a small house, with one level of grey siding, and a backyard with a maple tree, which would bleed so much sap, leaves would stick to your feet when you walked by. It had two bedrooms. One was a study I dedicated to writing. The rent was cheap. Utilities were also paid. I had the option to rent to own from my father. I had a job at a bank that appreciated me. The neighborhood was great. It was a verdant dream in the summer, a jade chessboard of white siding and children laughing. In the winter, it looked like a row of cottages locked in a snow globe on some dusty shelf in a gift shop.
At night, I’d wander out into the gloom with my dog for a quick walk. It could be any season, but at least once a week I would hit the hum of streetlights starting like curled dreams along the pavement. They have a static engine to them before they bloom. They sound like they’re about to unravel when finally a frame of orange spills out of their center. In a few minutes, they’ll be an artificial sun beaming against the deep, and midnight will be temporarily intimidated.
For me, walking those streets, I would hear the song of those streetlights powering up, and I would get scared. It was like those fog horns blaring before heaven and hell switched in Silent Hill.
During the day, the sunshine and monotony of everyday existence distracts you from the festering wounds that hold your life together. Your job, family, friends, traffic, phone calls, texts, emails, Tweets, headlines, Memes, Vines, bathroom breaks, and materials occupy your daytime like too many squads of bacteria underneath a microscope.
At night, the media settles, the pixels sleep, and the real monsters come out to play.
When those streetlights power on in the silent drifts of winter, or in the bug-wild swarms of summer. When the world can’t distract you anymore. When blankets outweigh status updates. This is when calluses and scabs break on any unhealthy relationship. In Robbinsdale, an ex-girlfriend and I were completely miserable and incompatible. Yet, we were afraid to change, to abandon these hives of nostalgia, though they were honeycombed with pockets of anger and emotional abuse. Our lives were miserable, though popular media taught us it was too hard to start over. We would see an old location of ours and drift into a melancholic daze worthy of a dramatic setting on the CW Network.
It wasn’t worth the risk to be happy.
Whenever I would get home with the dog, our night would be a sweaty maelstrom of screams, shouts, insults, and anger. We’d fight relentlessly until the dog was so scared she’d back against the wall trying to get her feet off the ground. It was like the vibrations echoing through the linoleum were hurting her. I knew they were. My dog, a miniature dachshund would curl next to me after all the fighting had ended, and she’d shake. She’d eventually fall asleep.
I knew she wasn’t having good dreams.
I used to walk out to those streetlights, which beamed like lighthouses along a rock-sharp shore, and talk to them. Why couldn’t I be happy? Why couldn’t I make things work? Surely there was someone underneath a streetlight somewhere across the world who was happy. Why couldn’t I be like them? Why was I different?
I hated them for it. It seemed like everything had been molded to perfection to make my personal life work. I had done all the cookie cutter things to make myself smile. House, work, school, all the great elemental forces society has told us we need to survive, meant nothing to me. They couldn’t paint over the problems.
Now, years later, removed from that neighborhood, relationship, and without my dog, I get to see the streetlights again. They’re the same everywhere. That jealousy isn’t there anymore. The hate and isolation of the sky falling on me every night was gone. Looking back, it was never the people I hated beneath those orange lights. It was never the dreams being lived by others. It was never the happiness of others.
It was me.
It was the light inside of me that made me apprehensive. I knew I needed something better than this. I knew I deserved something better than what I had. Every night the streetlights echoed this amber requiem, until I finally listened.