The clock said eleven and that was too late to run. But I needed to. It had been a long day and I had spent it moping around or getting angry. I was ready to do anything to feel like myself again and still tugging at my socks I headed out the door.
It was a cold night and even though it felt like I was breathing glass, I kept running because I was still angry. That was the perplexing thing, and all the time I kept looking around for something I could point to and label the problem but nothing stared back except the lit dorm buildings and the rolling plastic grass fields. There was nobody out and I wished there was.
It would have been easier if there was a reason. In the morning, I sat up in bed and brushed my teeth and washed my face like I always did. Except that everything felt wrong, horrifically wrong, like today was opposite day and I was the only one that didn’t know. That morning I felt too tired and my jaw ached more than usual and the water was all too warm. And when I left my dorm to go to class even the sun felt too bright, like it was getting bigger and bigger and before I knew it I would be swallowed up.
After two miles I was halfway across campus and when I reached the clock tower, I went right instead of left because now I knew where I wanted to run. The quarter before I had taken a class where I conducted a survey of all of the palm trees on campus. It had taken two weeks to find them all and another week to chart them all on the map. But by the end of it I knew where every palm tree was and the way they highlighted a path right through the heart of campus, through Main Quad and the Oval and all the way down Palm Drive. I was going to go all the way down that path and back and maybe by the end of it I would know what to do a little better.
I ran a little faster now and all the while I kept thinking of reasons to be angry. I had been gloomy for a while now and these days I was so anxious that I had trouble sleeping. Maybe I was angry at myself or maybe it was nothing big or bad after all, just a single aberration in a long and stable chain of mornings, because there are of course days like that. Of course there are days where you wake up and nothing feels right and you look in the mirror and you are surprised because you see yourself and it is nothing like you have imagined. Maybe it was nothing at all and when I finished this run and went to sleep I would wake up and everything would be alright. And I kept thinking that all the way through Palm Drive where the trees became so thick it felt like a forest and suddenly they turned to look at me and it was that feeling again.
I have run through Palm Drive many times before but in the dark the forest looks different. In the dark all the primal fears rise, those fears from the beginning of the world where men huddled around fires listening and listening. You are scared to look and of course you look anyway, and sometimes there is a shout or a holler and you know that something is there but there is nothing to see. Because all you see are those tall dark shapes that twist and turn and seem to take on form before you blink and they are only trees again.
I have dreamt of this forest, dreamt of escaping into the woods. I have planned it all out. I will run into the forest and I will hide there until morning and in the morning they will come looking for me and I will not be there. Everyone will wonder and everyone will mourn and everyone will go back to their daily lives and finally I am all alone. This is the source of the anger, the source of all of it, that I cannot throw my life away and go into the forest and wait until everything has gone away and finally I am left with only myself.
That day, I went running in search of something that never existed. I went looking for the forest and I ran through it and after I was done I jogged back, past Main Quad and the Oval and the plastic grass fields and the lit buildings, until I reached my dorm and walked up the stairs and sat down at my chair.