The lights shone yellow through the gloom of a cold and rainy December night as Anthony, Ken, and I trolled the avenues of center city, aimless as usual, with more than enough conversation to keep us warm. But that light called out to me in the darkness of a premature winter evening through the windows of the old church at the end of the next block. To tell the truth I would have rather been home enjoying my fuzzy socks and the warmth of my family. Honestly, I would rather have been in Columbia, Maryland, but that was farther away than the miles it would take to get there.
We took our time dodging in and out of shop doorways, sitting on improvised stoops, and talking about the latest person we passed on our way to nowhere special. There truly was nowhere to be so we went nowhere, instead preferring to wander like nomads in our urban desert. We were like ghosts on the sidewalk as the occasional car passed us in the murky fog, or as the random individual went by in the opposite direction in a rush, headed home or to some theme party where everyone came dressed as an unironic MC Hammer. We laughed at that one as a man in parachute pants passed us by.
Then we were inside the glow of the lights listening to the music emanating from within that old church, and memories came pouring back into my mind, the memories I had tried so hard to block out with the endless wandering, with the avoidance of family, the ones who still pitied me. But there it was regardless, the pounding beat of my spent heart bleeding out on the cold, wet concrete. The mood shifted like the temperature, as the steam from my breath danced circles in the air before coming down to earth. I sat down on the bottom stair of that Episcopalian church and cried.
The tears were a long time coming, with the pushing and shoving down of emotions a learned exercise to me back then, but when they came they came hot and furious. To their credit, Anthony and Ken just sat there with me and let the meltdown happen as the music and fellowship continued from inside the church. A man appeared in the doorway and looked down at us, but not down on us. He quietly invited us inside, and we went to stand in the back. It was as warm inside the building as the tears that still hadn’t stopped falling, and the place was sparsely populated, but it felt so inviting, so much like a real home. I sat down on the final pew and bowed my head, if not in prayer, at least in a semblance of prayer, and I silently asked for forgiveness.
And none of that praying made her come back to me. As the night wore on, and the church closed, and we headed back to wandering the streets, that came through to me in stunning clarity for the first time. Until then I think I had deluded myself into thinking that the lights were always on, but they weren’t. They had been off for a while, and I had to accept that. Perhaps the tears cleared my vision. Maybe they washed away all of those expectations like so much garbage into the sewer drain because even though it still hurt like hell I knew that was what it would take to get over her instead of hoping it was a prelude to a renaissance that would never come.
We walked past a largely deserted Arch Street and I turned around to look back at the church, knowing that for that moment on that night as another Christmas began to move in that really New Year’s had come early, and with it the strongest resolution I would ever make: to be truly happy again.