Dark Places

Meeting a new person is like visiting a new place, moving to a new city. At first, you see the landmarks, the places where everyone goes, the major roads and thoroughfares. You recognize their beauty, their intelligence, their kindness and elegance — perhaps you learn they’re well-read and like the same music you do. You notice the buildings that stand out from the others, the beautiful parks, the smell of the air, the water, the trees, the mountains nearby. And then — perhaps you stay in a hotel for a few days, a week, or you move into a new house — you find the local grocer, the shop that sells things you didn’t know you needed until you see them, the bookstore, and the library, and the little park that stays quiet even on the weekends. But you only know the roads that connect you from one place to another, the paths you’ve found that work for you — you haven’t taken the sidestreets, or found the shortcuts. You learn about their favorite books, and their favorite bands, the movies they’ve watched too many times. You learn where they grew up, where their family is, their favorite pets, and the places they’ve been. They tell you about the long lines of memory that have brought them to where they are now, the stories they’ve told a dozen times but are new to you.

And slowly you start to find the shortcuts — maybe it’s the little path between two houses you’d never noticed before that takes you to a little ravine you never would have guessed was there. Or you find a willow tree, just a block from where you usually walk, but which you’d never seen before. The coffee shop that opens too early and closes too soon, but is the perfect place to be whenever you’re there. And you learn about the things that make them laugh, the foods they love — and the ones they hate — and you hear about the fights they used to get in with their brother when they were younger. As you stay there longer, and you learn more, you find the hill that has the best view of the sunset, and the bar where the music is always good, and you learn all of the spots where you can see the mountains, or the places where you can always find someone to talk to when you’re lonely — and the places where there aren’t any people when you want to be alone. And you notice the mole on their collarbone, the shape of their hand as they reach out to hold yours, the scar that comes with a story from their childhood, the way they laugh when they’re being nice after you’ve made a joke that wasn’t funny.

But you’ve avoided the dark alleys, and still haven’t gone where the tourists never are, and don’t even know about the places where even the locals won’t go. One day, you try a new path, and you find yourself in a place you’ve never been, and you don’t want to stay there, but now you’ve seen it, and you want to know more. You learn about the things they hide from other people, the places they don’t like to go themselves, the memories they keep in the darkness.

But you love the place you live, this new home, and you want to know the dark alleys, the neglected neighborhoods, because you love every aspect of it, and hiding something in the dark doesn’t ever make it any better. And sometimes the dark places give us depth, and they’re what make us human. And so you learn, and you love, and you accept them for the dark places, even as you try to bring light to them, in any way you can, because it’s a part of who we are, of where we live, of the things that we make, and create, within ourselves and throughout the world, as human beings. And you just hope that they, too, can see the dark places in you, and want to bring light to them — and even if they don’t, you still love them, because it’s the only thing you can do.

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