Twenty Years

Biking down Lexington at a quarter to midnight, all I could think was I really, really shouldn’t have stayed out so late.

I don’t know why darkness makes such a difference. I’d biked that way home countless times before, just never so late. I never really worried about doing it. I just made sure not to stop until after I crossed 12th Avenue East.

But it was dark, and it did make a difference. Deep shadows carved by the yellow-orange of the sodium vapor streetlights. Hardly any cars around. Knots of people who, even in different circumstances still wouldn’t be my friends, smoking in doorways. Raising their voices despite the hour.

Up ahead, as I passed 9th East, loud voices made me drift away from the sidewalk, towards the center of the street.

I looked. Of course I looked.

A little ways up from 10th and Lex, two guys were getting into it near the corner of a building. “Gimme yo’ wallet” and “Fuck off”, then something flashed orange in the streetlight and one man crumpled while the other disappeared into the shadow around the building.

Footsteps, running.

I passed the crumpled man, who turned towards me. I caught a flash of his face, twisted and suffering, as I flew past.

I should have stopped. I knew I should have stopped. But 12th was only two blocks away, and I never stopped in this neighborhood, and the darkness made a difference.

So many reasons not to stop. So many things I told myself.

But not one of them has made me feel alright about myself since. Not one of them has kept me from thinking about that man, every day for twenty years, and wishing I had stopped.

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