I have taken to roaming the neighborhood late at night. Since Jerry died, I’ve had trouble sleeping, but after trying melatonin, Xanax, and warm milk at bedtime, I eventually stopped fighting it. Instead, I keep an oversized, pilling gray sweater and a pair of old hiking boots next to the bed, and when the air feels heavy enough to choke me I slip them on over my pajamas and head downstairs. I call my dog, Kiko, who didn’t know Jerry but has five years on the street and in shelters to forget about, and together we dissolve into the darkness.
We rarely see people. If someone is out — a teenager sneaking home from the park, a tired nurse in scrubs and crocs walking her miniature poodle — they keep their distance from the gray-haired woman and her rangy dog, clearly a shepherd of some sort, with a long snout and rows of gleaming white teeth.
So we fade into the night, climbing long hills to intersect with winding county roads. I am Princess Mononoke and her wolf Moro, or someone less glamorous — Mrs. Who, maybe? — but still not of this world. Kiko will lope at my side forever; she’s mostly a silent dog, although she will break character for a rabbit. And me — there’s nothing poetic about me, in my pajamas and green-rimmed glasses, my pockets stuffed with bright-pink poop bags. But I feel magical nonetheless.
It is the magic of losing myself in my surroundings. I have a friend who travels impossible distances to stand on glaciers or contemplate deserts, because, he says, it reminds him he is on a planet. I seek something even bigger, to remind myself I am in a universe; the closest I come to finding it is by looking through a canopy of leaves to the night sky. It’s often cloudy or foggy at this time of year, but I find the moon if I can. I’ve seen several harvest moons, ripe as giant cheeses and almost too heavy to stay in orbit.
I listen for the rustle of squirrels and chipmunks gathering food — Kiko is especially alert to this — and the deep hoot of the Morris-Essex train, far in the distance. Sometimes I hear a young screech owl, a who-who-who so fluid it sounds like a horse whinnying.
After I acclimate myself to the night, I search out familiar stars. Orion is a favorite — he’s not visible during the summer but returns late in the fall, the three bright stars marking his belt easy to find unless the weather is really lousy. Like Jerry, he had a big personality. And like me, he walks with a purpose.
But while Orion hunts, I am here to grieve. About halfway through my first mile, the tears begin: sometimes a slow trickle, sometimes a flood so overwhelming that I crouch on the sidewalk, gasping for breath. It’s as if I have a stone cistern in the middle of my gut, fed by an underground river. At night, the stream rises until it overflows, black water pouring out from a place too deep for me to even imagine.
I can only endure it. But later I sleep soundly.