I remember when the night was taken from me.
But before that, I used to stay out late all the time, by myself. After the movies, I’d walk my friends towards the subway, group hug goodbye and take the long way home. The movie theater was in my neighborhood, right across from the park, and years later I’d clean the sticky popcorn crusted floor for a short stint. I’d volunteer for the cleaning crew to get away from the horde of customers, spittle flying out their red mouths, the marijuana soaked lobby, the supervisor with impossibly white teeth, his white grin glowing luminescent, glowing bright, as he teased the gold metal of his zipper, asking me if I had a boyfriend.
This is before that time. I’d hug my friends goodbye, wait at the top of the stairs for them to disappear in the rush of wind blowing through the Brooklyn catacombs. I’d turn and take the long way home. Summer night. I didn’t sweat back then, I don’t remember sweating. I walked along the park, sometimes hoisting myself onto the wall, balancing on the wall, short sprints forward like I was Maniac Magee.
I’d take the long way home. I’d spread my arms and smile in the Alone. Darkness splashed against the dark hairs starting to grow on my arms. Lights in the brownstones facing the park flickering off and on. Fireflies fighting to get free.
I remember the night taken from me. Out of love, I know it was. And out of truth. It saddened me but I was never angry.
Coming home late, probably from school. The sun had settled down but my father rose and grabbed my arm, not angry, it didn’t hurt. This wasn’t anger, it was love.
He led me back out into the streets, his flashlight catching spots in between cars. “Anybody could have dragged you under here, and raped you.”
“Dad,” I laughed. “Nobody’s raping me.”
We walked the entire route back to the school. His light stripping beneath the cars, illuminating alleyways, beckoning forth the wide trees where invisible rapists apparently laid in wait, hanging off the branches, ready to pounce. Then we went back home, my dad making me promise to wear a whistle around my neck. And I didn’t go to bed fearing anything, and I didn’t know that the night had been taken.
Sometimes, I would sneak out of the house. For no reason. I just needed to stretch. My neighborhood was safe, I’d just wander around and then head back.
“How much?!” A man poked his head out of a slowing car.
I paused, confused, only a couple blocks away from my middle school. But I still thought the night belonged to me.
Years later. During my popcorn cleansing stint. Summer night. It was raining. I loved the weight of it on my umbrella. A mobile iMax experience of pounding water. Only two blocks away from my home – something hits me from behind, right against my backside, and I’m shuffling several feet forward, the water rushing me down the concrete river.
Turned around and found, a boy laughing at me, groping his crotch and jutting his hips at me. Saying something, I don’t even know what he says.
“Barely felt anything!” I grip the handle of my umbrella tight, shouting through the rain. “Small fucking dick!”
“Yeah come see how small it is bitch!”
I can’t turn around to walk. I have to walk backwards through the rain. He’s dancing back and forth like he’s gonna come for me – no, he’s backing away. He does it again and again until he’s crystallized in black showers. Two blocks away from my fucking house.
And, so I was angry. Not even. I was humiliated. It was humiliating. And I cried. But I got over it pretty quick, it was more like just a release of tension squeezed like liquid heat out the corners of my eyes. I don’t think I got it then, because I still walked the night (just, for a few years, avoiding that particular block).
I think I might have had a guardian angel working overtime that Halloween night. In another country. A cobble stoned town I had no business being in. And I went out in a tight black dress with a really sick friend, who let me borrow her boots that were a size too small but looked really good. And she found someone she liked, and I fell into a cute boy’s lap with incredibly nice hair to grip onto. As a foursome, we left the club, and when he saw I was cold, cute boy gave me his sweater to wear.
“I have to go piss, wait for me here.” My friend went off with her guy to pee between the cars, covered by the night.
What should have taken a few minutes, stretched into a half hour. Cute boy and his own group of friends were growing impatient. “A mi casa.” He slurred, but I shook my head no, I had to wait for my friend. He nodded politely, rubbed my ass and then softly asked for his sweater back.
I wandered around the town square myself, rubbing at my cold arms, hopping anxiously in my too small boots, the leather squeezing my ankles and pinching my toes. A maze of vehicles parked in front of bars, long closed after last call. “Brianna!” A chorus of howls answered my call, a pack of shadows converged beneath the streetlamp near the taxi service, grinning at me.
Guardian angels must exist. My feet were only bleeding a little bit, when I got back to the hostel, closing the door with my grinning admiror still a block behind. And in the morning, Brianna knocked on my door, alive. And we hugged when she told me why it took so long, the admirer she found of her own.
But I still didn’t get it, that the night had been taken from me.
Then – normal day. Average day. And the sun sets. And nothing happens. And I’m walking home. Undisturbed. And I don’t realize I’m holding my breath until I reach my front door, and my keys are clutched in my hand, warm metal fitted through the gaps in my fingers like I’m Wolverine. And the tension bleeds from my body, as I collapse in relief. Happy to make it home. And I know then, that the night had been taken from me.