The Fog in the Park

It’s a feeling that I don’t think I can put into words. Maybe the word for this feeling hasn’t been invented yet.

Bending down to tie my laces, I have to fight back a yawn. The yawns always come when I drag myself out of bed. It’s not that I’m tired, that I don’t get enough sleep (although that’s definitely a perennial problem of mine). I think that my body knows that the rest of the world is asleep right now, and it wants to join the sea of other dreamers in slumber.

Sometimes, it’s almost overwhelmingly tempting. It would be so easy. I could just crawl back into bed, back into that warm spot under the covers, close my eyes and drift immediately back into my half-broken dreams. No one would ever know if I skipped a day.

Still, I resist. I go through a few stretches, feeling the tightness of spending hours lying in the same position. I shake out my arms, listen to the rustling of the fabric of my jogging shorts. I tie my laces, re-check them to make sure that they aren’t going to work loose once I’m outside.

And then I step out of my apartment. I lock the door behind me, slide the key into my pocket – it’s the only thing with me. No wallet, no phone. I take the stairs down, all six flights, down to the main level.

The night watchman’s name is Devin. I’ve never exchanged more than half a dozen words with him, but I know him, and he knows me. His shift ends at six AM, he says, but he’s always there when I return. I think he might sometimes wait around for me.

I nod at Devin as I pass him, heading past the front desk of my apartment building and out onto the street. He returns the nod, the wrinkles around his eyes crinkling deeper. He doesn’t run. He’s content to carry the belly from years of sitting, snacking on pastries and watching small monitors display static images.

There’s almost never any traffic, but I still walk down to the end of the block to cross at the light. During the day, I jaywalk like everyone else, but it seems wrong to do it so early in the morning, when I have nothing but time. I bounce on the balls of my feet as I wait for the light to change.

Two blocks down, I enter the park. It’s time. My walk quickens to a trot, then to a run.

There’s always fog in the park. Someone – I don’t remember who – once told me that it rolls in from the sea, the river, clings to the damp and cold before the sun rises to burn it away. Maybe a scientist told me. It might have come from a homeless man. I don’t remember.

The fog muffles all sound, hides everything from me except the thump of my footsteps and the huffing of my breath. When I started, I could barely make it a hundred feet down the path before that huffing grew ragged, before I had to slow and let myself recover.

Now, I move more adroitly, my steps even, my breath steady. The ground is slick beneath my tennis shoes, and I need to watch my step to avoid taking a tumble. It comes naturally, though, the movements and motions and instinctive responses to a shift in the gravel beneath me.

When I started, it was an uncertain attempt to literally run from my problems, to forget the pain of a bad breakup. I remember running with tears rolling down my cheeks, heavier cousins of the fog that hung in the air. I remembered her – her scent, her touch, the cruel words hurtled over her shoulder as she left that pierced me like knives. I ran into the fog, trying to escape those memories.

She faded away, left the different spheres of my life, but the running remained. Every morning, cold or warm, rain or shine – although there’s no shining sun, not in the fog of the park. Every morning, I’d get up, reluctantly leave my warm cocoon, head out into the park.

If anyone asked me why I still did it, I wouldn’t have an answer for them. It’s a part of me, something I can no better leave behind than the color of my skin, my height, the way that I sometimes look too long at a stranger because I think that I recognize them from some past life. I go out, into the fog in the park, and I run.

I’ve found a circle through the paths, by luck and exploration. I head back to the apartment building, my mind clear. I walk the last few blocks; I’ve caught my breath by the time I re-enter the building. Devin gives me a wave as he tucks his book away and prepares to head home.

A quick shower washes away that mysterious emptiness, and I step out of the warm water with a dozen thoughts for the day. I need to file a report, mail some bills I’ve been neglecting, answer that email from the dating site that I really don’t want to face. So much to do.

When I glance out the window, the fog is gone. The sun’s crested the horizon, and its rays lance between the buildings, burning it away.

I know it will be back tomorrow. I’ll go out to greet it, running like a ghost through the fog in the park.

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