It’s just before midnight on the summer solstice of 2014 and I am setting out to walk home from a Christmas party at a friend’s house. Goodbyes, hugs, a kiss on the cheek that misses its mark and finds an ear instead. The lanterns in the backyard glow softly on the picnic blankets; the windows of the house are squares of gold. I make my way up the driveway to the street, and I am alone.
The walk is long — nearly two hours. There’s a big hill to climb, right at the beginning, that feels like it goes on forever. I know this when I choose the walk over the expensive taxi ride. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a long walk; it’s been even longer since I’ve walked at night. I reckon I have precisely the right amount of wine in my veins to enjoy the trip.
After a few minutes I reach the main road, and the ascent begins. I walk neither fast nor slow, but lean slightly into the hill as I climb. I fill my lungs and empty them again, enjoying the rhythm that we fall into — my body and I. My legs feel strong.
Cars pass, moving easily up the long slope and disappearing beyond its crest. An old hatchback slows and its driver calls out: Need a ride? I wave him on.
Eventually the traffic dies to nothing and it’s just me and the hill, breathing in, breathing out, and then inevitably the hill finds its peak and it’s just me. There is no descent — I’ve climbed out of a valley onto a long flat plain that stretches all the way to home. It’s the same valley I moved into nearly two years ago; that blank neighbourhood with the sad shopping trolleys and the concrete creek that offered me the best solace that it could. I’m glad my friends live on the side of the hill rather than in my old neighbourhood at the bottom, and not just for the extra climbing that it’s spared me.
I keep walking, my breath beginning to slow. The moon is dark and the world is bathed in starlight. I’m giddy with pinot gris and oxygen, and occasionally I get flashes of a wonderful weirdness that over the years I’ve come to call this is new. Not a newness of place, but rather of perception. It’s a feeling of disassociation from everything known; a shiver or a wash of unanchored awareness. When I get home I attempt to sketch a portrait of my fleeting subject, before it dissolves into the oncoming tide of sleep.
It goes beyond the warm liquid light of synchronicity, where everything is soft and open, floaty and free, yet utterly present. This is more like ageless moonlight on an alien planet — alone in a void, silence like a flawless mirror. In a known environment, everything is strange. In a strange environment, everything is known. But known for exactly what it is, in all its lucid strangeness. And the strangeness of the known comes with equal clarity — not a cipher, but a revelation.
I’m not home yet, though. I have yet to write those words, or these. Right now I’m still walking in the cold clear starlight, my feet comfortable in my shoes, my breath easy in my lungs. The world feels like a dream, and yet I am unmistakably awake.
This is new, this is new.