The Stroll

I think it’s fair to say that there’s more I don’t know than do know. But here’s one thing I do know: walking with your eyes closed for more than five seconds at a time is deceptively difficult. The first time I walked in the city with my eyes closed for five seconds I nearly poked my eye out on a wayward sapling branch.

While our natural tendency is to seek the security of rhyme and reason, sometimes we take the reins and do something just because we can. Most things can be explained away: a cat suddenly darting into the other room, or the song you were just thinking of being in the soundtrack to the old movie you’ve just rented. But at some point along the way a random factor establishes itself, and that random factor is ourselves.

That’s what I was thinking the first time I walked by the old power company gate just as it opened.

There’s a chain link fence, peeling and gray, that I pass on my way home. I’m familiar enough with my route to know that they spray paint it silver every six months or so. Like anyone cares. Topped with a coil of razor wire, the fence runs the periphery of the power company parking lot. The side I walk along has two sliding gates just wide enough to allow passage for the rust-eaten service trucks that still manage to trundle out on occasion. Thing is, when the driver buzzes one gate open, the other gate sometimes opens too. I guess they’re just too close together. And, I don’t know, I’ve been nursing a thought for a while now. It’s a thought about whim, and how easy it would be to step sideways, through the gate, into the lot without even breaking my stride.

The first time I walked with my eyes shut for ten seconds, I misjudged how far I’d gone and nearly stepped off the curb into traffic. There was a rush of adrenaline behind my ears, and when I smiled the man next to me smiled back because he thought I was smiling at him.

There’s a thing I’ve had my whole life, and I’ve never known if I was the only one who had it. It doesn’t just happen randomly, but rather it’s a feeling that I have just before I’m about to do something bad. It’s like reality being tugged backward for a second. It’s a momentary lapse, as though the world had shifted like a gift in its box. I barely have time to be dizzy, because suddenly everything is right again. Or have things changed slightly? One instance I remember clearly: The construction site that abutted my neighborhood was far too tempting for a little kid to ignore. I was around seven, and one of my favorite after school activities was to sneak around the site alone, occupying myself by sitting in bulldozers, and eating bits of stale discarded lunch bread from the ground. On one occasion I decided that I was going to enter one of the unfinished homes. Peeking through the still-taped panes I could see that the vertical beams had not yet been covered by drywall, and only suggested at the rooms that would be. The thought of prowling through some future family’s living room excited me, and without hesitation I slid the rear glass door to the side. Just as I stepped onto the concrete floor I had the mind shift – the tug, like the onset of a seizure. And I clearly remember thinking, “Is this my conscience?”

The first time I walked with my eyes closed for thirteen seconds – I counted – the thing that made me stop was myself. I’d lost my bearings as easily as one might lose track of time while dozing, and I stopped, really, because that feeling came back to me after too long an absence. “Is this my conscience?” That’s what I was feeling when I opened my eyes to find myself standing just inside the power company’s gate.

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