By Erin Lodes
I left the cottage with my waterproof jacket and pants swishing in the quiet night air, my hiking boots hitting the pavement with solid, steady thuds. I was intent on my path, hurrying into the silence. Sometimes the voices in my head were too loud to handle conversations with other people. They were yelling at me about him. I was tired of listening; I just wanted them to let me be, to let it be.
It was a familiar route, the way to the Ireland’s west coast; I had walked it many times during my months spent here for Study Abroad. Down the cracking old pavement road, past fields and a strong but worn stone wall, ditches hiding under long grass, a barbed wire fence with posts that had long ago forgotten how to be straight. Take a left at the top of the hill around the curve past the cow fields; follow it down the hill where the pavement disappears, overtaken with grass; to the edge of the cliff, cut out of the earth by something, maybe waves that once came up to that point, and have since always hesitated lower on the shore, choosing instead to wear down the rocks that live on the sand.
I can picture the beach, imagine navigating its slippery rocks in the dark, hear the sound of the waves, and feel the weight of the gray clouds that blanket it all. But now I’m leaving the pool of light spilling from the cottages and I disappear into darkness. Everything seems too loud: my boots, the fabric of my clothes, my breathing. I try to listen to the silence.
It’s late and my roommates made sure I have not one flashlight but two, not to see my way but to make sure no cars mistake my human body for nothingness in the dark and bring it into being only as they break it. We’ve seen locals use this trick while walking home after a night of drinking to protect themselves from cars that whip around these narrow roads so much quicker than you think they would; a small spot of moving light the only indication a life exists in the pitch black.
My body has not yet begun to warm inside my layers when I realize I’ll need the flashlight for much more. The light from the cottages, less than a minute’s walk behind me, fails to negate the darkness that is starting to make my breath come harder.
When did I forget I’m afraid of the dark?
Somewhere in-between the laughter in the cottage that felt so suffocating and the thoughts in my head that drove me to the loneliness, the restlessness, but the calmness of the ocean. Somewhere in-between the hurried lacing of my boots and the gathering of the flashlights, I’d forgotten that the darkness here was so complete it could bring back the fear I’d thought I’d forced myself long ago to leave behind. Fear that had forced me to run up staircases and race across the floor to the safety of my bed after flipping a light switch.
Memories of Criminal Minds episodes and everything I’ve ever read about women walking alone in the dark in the middle of the night became my enemy. The ditches suddenly became hiding places waiting to spit out unseen attackers. The wide open spaces and the wild smell of the breeze that had always filled me with a sense of adventure and freedom instead choked me with a sense of helplessness. The small flashlight I had did little to ease my fears, and the large one I carried in the opposite hand would flicker on and off if I took a wrong step.
I could turn around now. The cottages were closer than the water I had wanted to reach. I could be back inside with familiar faces and leave the darkness outside the heavy doors and thick walls. No. I would not turn back now.
I remembered learning from somewhere that if you run when you’re afraid of nothing you only scare yourself more. So I walked. I focused on the solidity of the pavement beneath the rubber soles of my boots. I listened to the quiet and reminded myself of how I cherished this during the day. This was something I’d been practicing in Ireland: taking the time to feel my feet hit the pavement, taking the time to walk slowly. It was new to me, this concept of having time to get places without worrying about being late or wasting time. Just walk slowly.
The path was familiar enough for me to walk it in the dark. I knew when to switch to the opposite side of the road around the curve. I knew where the pavement got so bad you had to lift your feet a little higher to avoid tripping. I knew where it disappeared altogether and became a two track, single lane dirt road. I knew the point where I could finally hear the ocean.
Finally I was there, just me and the dark and the sound of the ocean. I could only hear it, crashing relentlessly upon the shore. I sat at the top of the cliff, cushioned by an armchair fashioned out of earth and grass. Protected by my waterproof clothing, encased in blackness, I listened to the water, a constant ebb and flow that was a comfort in its repetition. The tide went in and out; some days the waves were bigger than others, some days the water was black and some days blue, but the water always came back to be held by the sand. Always.
Just silence and the ocean, it drove out the yelling in my head and finally let me be. Just let it be. I looked at what stars I could see, obstructed by the clouds I couldn’t, and I wondered how things we couldn’t see could affect us so greatly.
Erin Lodes is a senior finishing up an English Major and Writing Minor at Aquinas College. She is now involved in a long-distance relationship with an Irishman she met while on her study abroad trip to Ireland. Currently she is working on her first collection of short stories, born from participating in National Novel Writing Month this past November (2012). After graduation she intends to travel while continuing to work on her writing.