I wake early, six a.m., squinting against the bathroom light. Outside is a dark bruise. I rally the troupes—Dan, the dog—come on, I say, let’s go for a run. The trail near our home where the dog runs off-leash is closed, but perhaps, in the early hours and cloaked by darkness we can jog along the path unencumbered and free. I want to run that way, released, feel the burn in my lungs, the lash to my legs, the pumping of my heart, you are you are you are here. But also, to unleash the feeling that’s grown deep and restless inside me, the beast of longing. Ah, yes. The beast of longing. Her. We are well acquainted. I hold myself fixed to a certain goal and the beast of longing grows and grows, alongside my ambition. She can be monstrous, dangerous. Do not poke her or provoke, she will devour you whole.
Only our front porch light torches the way, the sidewalk ahead is encased in a shrouded mist of black. We move, the three of us, into the morning night. I lead the way, loosening, my muscles adjusting, arms tucked close weighted by fists, one foot falling in front of the other, a light determined step. We find our way down paved roads lamp-lit to arrive at the opening of the forest. The opening is a tunnel of darkness, black turned in on itself. I flick on my phone flashlight. Stay close. Cedar roots jut out from forest floor, mud patches, stumps, loose stones and boulders litter the way as we make our way down the steep incline to the cinder path, my companions trailing behind disappear outside my light. We arrive, and the cinder path lights up reflected in the mist and I switch my phone flashlight off. Total black save for the star stream of bright at our feet.
We make our way easily down the now flat trail, hop hop hop hop; our feet little rabbits. The forest on either side of us holds unknowns, threatening mystery. I recall the man encamped within, illegally, who wouldn’t—couldn’t?—stop screaming one morning. A jogger passing by called 9-1-1, but the camper refused help, howled and howled, and sent the ambulance away when it arrived. I don’t know the camper’s wider story, but I do know what it is to howl. And how it is when the howling inside will not abate.
Footsteps, ours, stones scraping, heavy breathing, the distant whoosh of passing cars, the only sounds. The morning night is spooky, but our trio is at ease in each other’s company. I unwittingly call to mind the coyotes who leave the entrails of their meals littered across the trail. Safety in numbers. We hit the halfway mark and turn around.
As our eyes adjust to the night, our footfall to each other’s cadence, so too does the dawn break and the light creeps back in. Barely perceptible, then all at once, undeniable. Where once my foot fell into an abyss of black, now roughly defined features of craggy earth reveal themselves below. A large pile of dirt from the trail workers, we were lucky not to have tripped over on the way out, rises before us. Piles of excrement, as well, we are quite pleased to have dodged. And perhaps the most surprising, the metallic jaws of a dinosaur, an entire excavator, sitting alongside the trail, bucket raised with sharp teeth.
My mind churns, and I dig into my own short-comings, feelings of perceived failures arrive at this early hour unbidden. The beast of longing. She has found me, even here. I can’t stop my thoughts from rising up, howling, but I don’t stop running, never stop running. One foot in front of the other, we press on. I don’t say a word.
We reach the base of the hill leading back to home. Up we climb, up and up and out of the forest. And it’s brighter still. A matte sky. The street lamps look silly casting their glow in the brightening day as the mist fades away.
And I know, running back down the road towards home, that I will write about this moment. I can already grasp the metaphor of moving through darkness, tucking into the forest, and re-emerging into the light, but I don’t yet know what it means.
Sick with the monster of my own longing, that weighty beast, I can do nothing but finish the run. See it through. Feel a measure of comfort from the company of my companions. I don’t understand what it means to wander in the dark and keep moving until the light. Keep moving until the light. Keep moving toward the light. Toward the light. Persevere. I write my way there.