Melancholy has followed me around for years. It's a feeling I've learned to grow comfortable with. And now it's become part of my fitness routine.
I've been an avid exerciser since my late twenties. I started running in that carefree time of life and loved the surge of endorphins that filled my body with their feel-good rush. It helped stave off depression and made it OK to eat and drink as much as I wanted. But after years of punishing my joints by pounding pavements, I've since replaced it with walking. Something I prefer doing alone, in the dark of night.
For years, I exercised with my husband—our love of sweating out the beer we drank the night before a common goal. But when I got sober and the glue that held us together came undone, our marriage split at the seams and single motherhood became my life. I relied on friends to fill the void my divorce produced and exercised with them.
One friend and I met once or twice a week to walk around a reservoir that sprawled between our towns. Four miles of pines and cooling waters, it was a favorite place for us to be from April to November, before winter howled its way in. Another friend and I got together weekly for dinner and burned off the meal by briskly walking through the city where we ate. Another took hikes with me through acres of woods behind my house, taking my chocolate Lab along for protection from snakes or other creatures that might cross our path. These walks were respite from my single-parent life, ones I counted on. Walking while processing the problems we had in out lives.
Time passed, my daughter grew, and things changed. Now I walk alone. And as temps get higher with each passing year, I find the best time to do that is in the cool of night.
Nighttime has a melancholic feel to it. There's a reason why people living in northern hemispheres have a higher risk of depression. Like gloomy days, too much darkness affects moods.
Ever since I was a young child, I've carried a sense of sadness with me. Taken from my mom when I was three for an extended period of time caused unbearable sorrow, a grief I pushed down for years with alcohol. Getting sober uncovered my melancholic nature that I had previously hid with a happy-go-lucky facade. I let go of that faux cheerfulness and learned to embrace the sadness.
Walking at night suits me.
I sometimes go out as late as 11 p.m., wandering through neighborhoods, passing darkened houses, welcoming the eeriness of it all. The glow of streetlights leave a circle of light on the blackened pavement, lending a film noir quality to the scenes.
I prefer the quiet the dark imbues, the space to hear myself think. During the day, cars zip up and down streets, dogs bark and planes buzz overhead, all adding to the cacophony of daytime. Neighbors and even people I don't know often want to stop and engage in small talk, a pastime my introverted self is not good at and really hates to do.
Of course, there are times I've been afraid on these nighttime treks. When I pass the stretch of road that borders the woods, I flick on my phone's flashlight and search for bears I think might be lurking on its edges, ready to pounce on a nighttime rambler like myself.
Recently, I've been watching some old episodes of the haunting TV series "Supernatural" with my daughter, and made the mistake of going out following some of the terrifying tales. I remember the first night I noticed a difference in my typical bravery. I felt it deep in my psyche, each step a bit more tenuous than my usual brisk pace. I called my daughter a few times to sort out my fear and she laughed at the thought of my lack of temerity after years of my nighttime roving.
One night, as fog settled on the lawns I passed, I came to a house that was totally dark except for a floodlight illuminating the front of the detached garage behind it. I expected the door to slowly creak open, while terrifying music cued up in the background, as a slew of those ominous ghouls came lumbering out to get me. My step picked up speed as did my pounding heart, willing myself to shake off the image.
Despite these things that have rattled me, walking alone at night has made me more fearless. Friends often worry about me, but I am not about to change this courage boosting habit. And who knows, someday I might be like the late country singer Patsy Cline, and go out walking after midnight—though I won't be thinking of anything but how quiet and delicious this time of day really is.