Monday, July 07, 2008

The Overnight, chapter 3

For chapters 1 & 2 go here.

A lot of people on the walk were from somewhere other than Seattle, which, along with New York, was one of only two cities hosting the walk in 2008. So these out-of-towners didn't understand why we needed to go up a steep tiny street to see a troll statue. Me, I used to live in Fremont but I never quite got the troll either. As the night wore on, I noticed fewer official volunteers and more people who seemed to be just watching the walk, like they stumbled into it. The guy near the troll statue was like that. "I lost my friend. Thanks for walking," he was half-mumbling, "High five. Thanks. Good job." He may have had a few drinks. This walk meant something to him.

I kept on walking through Fremont down to the Burke-Gilman trail and at this point we were north of Lake Union in Seattle. We were pretty thinned out by then and I just had to hope I was going the right way. I fell in with a woman who was walking alone. Her grandfather died before she was born but she was walking to understand why her dad was the way he was. This woman was a teacher and invited her dad to her classroom on a day when they happened to be having a Day of the Dead celebration. Her dad got panicked and had to leave the room. He's pretty old now but incapable of having a conversation about death. She walked for her dad. He couldn't.

Further east and down to the Husky Stadium parking lot for a midnight (well, 11:45) lunch. Sandwiches, pasta, some brownies, and also chairs and grass embankments. O, you foul temptresses chairs and grass embankments! Such relief to get off one’s feet but tempered with the knowledge that it would make getting back on one’s feet so much harder. I paused, talked to the Wisconsin folks a bit, checked in with the Pirates fans, and then stood up to start walking again, more stiffly. Past the Museum of History and Industry, across the Montlake Bridge and over to Eastlake Avenue and heading south. By now it was way past midnight and no one was really visiting any more. No one was sharing stories of who they were walking for. It was too sparse a crowd and the pain was getting to be a real nuisance.

Part of what I loved about the idea of the Overnight walk, back when I first read about it, was the stagecraft of it all. You walk through the darkness, you emerge in the light, you are part of a mass of people who all share this issue with you. It was a 20-mile walk but it was almost performance art, almost a protest. They didn’t talk about the part where the crowd would thin and it would be dark and kind of cold and you’d be alone. Still, this 12:30 a.m. stretch was just as potent symbolically as the more obvious theatrical moments. There came a point as I walked past the Eastlake Zoo tavern where I was alone. Part of this massive charitable healing event, sure, but really? Alone. No one within 100 yards of me. And I’m in pain, each step like a hammer to the foot. And I’m tired. And wondering if I could really keep doing this thing but knowing I had to. I had to keep walking through this darkness regardless of who was or wasn’t cheering me on. We can wear beads and special shirts and have been sponsored by wonderful friends, we can seek fellowship and sympathetic ears but we’re all ultimately alone.

Unless you’re part of the group of people in red T-shirts. Then you’re with everyone else in the red T-shirts. “Dude, you’re not even walking on your left heel!” shouted what appeared to be their leader, a buff and blond male cheerleader type as I passed them. No, I told him, it was just hurting me a bunch so I was favoring the front of the foot first, hoping it would get better. He had a lot of questions about my shoes in between cheering his team of five or so on. “I’m a personal trainer,” he said, “so I’m, like, REALLY into shoes. It’s all about the shoes! Whoo!” Not the kind of person you expect to meet on a suicide walk.

Down around the south part of Lake Union. A family on the side of the road. Mom and Dad standing and cheering, two young kids in a wagon smiling and clapping, they couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. Way past their bedtime. This family has a reason for being there.

Two teenagers walking near me asked if I knew how long the walk was. 20 miles, I told them. They said that’s what they had thought but they had heard from someone that it was only 18 miles. We snaked through the South Lake Union neighborhood past the mile 16 marker and I fell back in with the exuberant personal trainer and his redshirts. He thanked me for walking. Politely, I thanked him right back. He said that he’s lost two friends to suicide and that he’s battled depression his whole life. “I’ve been awfully close to suicide myself. I have to fight this every day,” he said quietly before turning back to his group with “Whoo! Come on everyone! You’re doing great!”

NEXT TIME: the end of the walk, eventually.

All walkers wore beads. Cheap plastic strands but extraordinarily heavy when you factor in symbolism.

We were asked to stretch before the walk even though it was just walking.

Seattle just before it got dark.


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