Arts and Entertainment | Style

Restless Nights: Following the leader, learning how to learn

“I want to be a shaman,” Peter said. “Just keep that in mind.” Things had started to get a little wonky.

In the flickering light, energy danced like leaves in a windstorm. It was as if the room was enchanted—I felt people’s thoughts hit me on the side of the face, had to navigate my way through a labyrinth of traps and somehow find a way to float above.

Soon we were dancing to some music and it was wonderful. Everybody was on their feet, moving through the smoky air, jumping. Someone put on a song and held the iPod while we danced, but he changed it just as the good bit was coming.

There was a suggestion to go upstairs. It might have been me. The crazy drunkards warned us not to go into Riverside Park because we were sure to be attacked by weirdos. I felt my friends listening and hated how easy it is to smother a fire.

Marching onto campus, Peter and I drove into the night. The others loitered by the east side of Butler.

When some people walked past us, I said to one, “I feel like a crazy person,” because I wanted to say hello to everyone. He called out to them, but they didn’t seem to hear him.

The others didn’t want to play, so we doubled back to find them. Someone asked where we’d been. “It was follow the leader,” Peter said. They asked who had made him the leader. He said he wasn’t and the idea made me a little uncomfortable. I looked at my feet.

For a moment, it felt like a burden, but I looked at Peter and I laughed. It was always follow the leader and everyone was the leader. I ran up and down the steps in an impulsive celebration.
They asked whether we were on something and Peter shouted in reply, “All I need is the air!” I cackled with joy and continued with nocturnal acrobatics.

Half of us said we were tired. The group had stayed together until then, and I thought it was a pity that we had not gotten very far. I wondered whether it is always a pity not to explore.

We said good night. The group split, and the prevailing winds shifted again. Something drew us to the north side of campus. Lying on the Curl outside Uris, we looked at the moon. But something, in my ephemeral daze, wasn’t right.

I remembered that it was a game and made a tentative suggestion. I knew the way to a rooftop if they were willing to squeeze out a window. They said of course they were and I was heartened by the confidence I didn’t necessarily have myself.

The building and its columns stood in somber intimidation. I climbed onto the pedestal and spread my arms as wide as I could.

“Show us your secrets. Take us into your body, protect us, cherish us, as we respect and revere you.”

The door clicked with pleasant authority when I scanned my ID. We took the elevator to the top floor and walked sheepishly past a corridor of security cameras. I grinned at one of them in case anyone was watching.

Out on the roof, the world had stopped. The night was still and stiff like cardboard. My nose ran a bit and I sniffed at the cold air. I climbed up. The top was just there. It seemed so far away. It was the only place to be.

Standing at the top, looking over campus, arms spread wide, there was a formidable view.

Slowly, gradually, I started to hum. Then I started to sing, louder and louder. My eyes were closed and I felt a ludicrous abandon.

I was higher on campus than I’d ever been before. It had not been easy, with all of the traps and obstacles from inside and out, to get here, but then, in that moment of immensity, there I was.

At last, shouting my soul into the night, I had paid my homage.

Kemble Walker is a Columbia College sophomore, majoring in music and German. Restless Nights runs alternate Fridays.


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