When I was 18 I was a freshman in junior college and while my friends decided rather early on that they wanted to spent our spring break on a trip to mexico where they would fuck strangers and drink lots of beer, I secretly planned a solo road trip to Alaska. Alaska never happened and I settled for Washington and later Vancouver. I left the road with a full tank of gas and big book of CD’s and I spent the day driving north along the 101 towards Santa Barbara and the Bay. I was happy. I wasn’t lonely.
I got lost near sunset trying to find my Grandma’s house in Richmond. I wasn’t nervous about being lost. I was nervous about something else. I didn’t understand it then. I suppose I don’t really understand it now. This happened again the next day. I drove all day, giddy and eager as I explored northern California and the coast. I was happy. I wasn’t lonely. I planned on sleeping in my car or camping.
But the sun began to set.
The sun began to set and I got nervous and sad and all of a sudden I wished for nothing more than a good place to stay. This night I found a hotel and I locked myself inside and zoned out to the television. Somehow TV in a hotel room is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
This continued the entire trip. Enjoyable days, panic attack inducing, sad early evenings. The final time this happened I didn’t stop. I drove south until 2 in the morning when I finally stopped at a rest stop and slept in my car and in the morning I didn’t stop until I reached home at 2 in the afternoon.
I could keep going. I could detail a hundred other examples of days alone that I feel happy and inspired, only to watch those days turn into dusk and my attitude become dour and lonely. When I hiked the John Muir Trail I was happy and excited every single day of the trip. If there were friends along the trail I talked with them. If there was nobody, I reveled in the silence. When I was alone and the sun began to set I wished for nothing else but a good campsite near people.
This happened again today. It confused my girlfriend I think. She’s in Toronto right now. We spent a good chunk of the day on the phone with each other, talking and being very romantic and gooey with each other. It was pretty wonderful. We separated in the late afternoon to do creative work. I tried to write and somehow spit out 700 words, most of it rubbish. I was frustrated. That frustration turned into serious doubts, those doubts turned into paranoia, that paranoia turned into panic. And thus the panic attack began.
She was confused because only a couple hours earlier I was happy and gleeful and now, during a regularly beautiful Southern California sunset, I was miserable. She called me and we talked and nothing of what I said made much sense. We had to stop because I had a basketball game to go to (we lost but played a little better than we had been). When I came out of the gym it was 9:00 o’clock. It was dark and breezy and cool. The panic attack was gone. It rarely continues into nighttime.
So I don’t know what to do about this. It’s a rather small problem. I don’t feel this way if I’ve spent the day with a friend. I don’t feel this way on my lunch at work, when I put my feet up outside and watch the sunset. It only happens on days off when I’m alone. The day itself can be glorious, but the approach of the night freaks me out.
In my journal during the John Muir Trail I wrote about it being a primitive feeling. Dusk means night is coming, which means I need shelter, which means me, as a human, am now vulnerable. I don’t know how true this is but it feels spot on. I sometimes think we forget how primitive we still are. We’ve had beautiful architectural structures for five thousand years, we’ve had democracy for several millennia, and right now we’ve got computers and nano-technology and so much new tech I wouldn’t be surprised if someone soon discovered time travel. And yet, despite all this, we are a young species. We haven’t been around very long in the grand scheme of things. And so maybe it’s good to remind myself that just because I have a good house and good books and good ways to communicate with my friends when they’re not around, doesn’t mean I’m still not afraid of the dark.