“What does freedom look like to you?”
I let the question silently repeat in my head as I tried to ignore that the wind which had been blowing steadily from the west as I walked away from home stopped when I entered the intersection and was now blowing vigorously from the east.
Looking around, I noted the trees in the near and far distances continued to defer to the safety of the world I had left behind a mile ago by dipping towards the softly brightening horizon. The brighter the sky, the chillier the wind, and I shivered despite my preparations.
Gripped in my pockets was my phone, a tiny bottle of whiskey, an empty jar, a spoon, a ring, and the compression of my doubts and fears between them. As I walked to this place, I realized I wasn’t afraid of nothing happening if I followed through with the plan.
I was afraid that everything would happen according to it.
The chosen intersection is not a comfortable place. It was the zone boundary between residential zones and industrial zones, between rural and urban densities, and between developed and abandoned lots. Big rigs and flatbed trailers trundled alongside sleek commuter cars and purring status vehicles as everyone passed through without stopping.
The chosen corner of this intersection is a field that had never been developed. No sewers ran forgotten underground. No utilities had marked off “No Dig” zones. But someone once had hope of a profitable future and a concrete sidewalk had been poured to mark the border between domestication and wilderness. I recognized the few pieces that remained in place as I carefully stepped through the gutter made by the mutually eroding concrete and asphalt to invade further into the field.
The field was large enough, flat enough, and devoid enough that the silhouette of my body could not be hidden. This was a place to pass through, not a place to stop for the view. It had rained three days before. The ground was still damp enough to show the footsteps of those who had walked along the street. I moved far enough into the field that no footsteps were present other than the ones I was now pressing.
When I realized that this would be my crossroads of choice, I walked the route several times during the bright of day. I knew how long the walk would take and where to be wary of drivers, other pedestrians, and ant hills. My plan required me to be in place before the first rays of dawn graced the field.
Somehow, I have arrived fifteen minutes early even though I left my front door precisely on time.
I can’t hide. If I linger at the near edges of the field as if to wait for someone, I’m at risk of being struck by vehicles treating the speed limit as a initial suggestion. If I go to one far edge of the field, I’m at risk of being treated as an intruder by those patrolling the barb-wired fences. If I go to the other far edge of the field, I’m at risk of being shot by the occupants of the homesteads that not even the police want to come near.
I stand in the middle of the field, and wait.
Before I left the comfort of home, I had loaded a specially crafted document on my phone and kept the app locked to the screen. A series of prayers were ready for me to read if my memory failed me. Which it was doing right now. I kept glancing at the dimmed screen to both check the time and to remind myself of the proper order of words.
The brightening blue ambiance of the area was covered with a soft amber glow. Turning around, I saw that the top of the mountain dominating this place was now graced with sunlight. The dawn would reach me in ten minutes.
Moving with an gentle shuffle so anyone watching me would think that I am getting annoyed with the person I was supposed to meet, I was shifting aside the top layers of dirt in preparation of the hole I would soon be digging. Two inches of dry dust was easy to shove aside. In just a minute I had reached the layer of still damp dirt. A worm flailed about in concern. I nudged it into the pile I had made to the side.
The sunlight was now halfway down the mountain. The east wind intensified and stole the sound from my ears and the warmth from all exposed skin. But to look at any place but this field, the wind remained west and the trees waved their concerns.
From first light to the separation of the sun disc from the horizon was four minutes. All of my actions had to be completed in that time. I uncapped the jar, moved the tiny whiskey bottle to a pants pocket, and slipped the ring onto a pinky finger in preparation for the moment.
The glow on the horizon pulls itself into a swelling of light that gathered at the point where the sun will make its introduction. I planted my feet aside the shallow scrape, gripped the phone with one hand and the uncapped jar with the ringed hand, and looked up to directly face the impending dawn.
Across the intersection, directly in my line of sight, stood the black silhouette of a tall male figure. Even though I could not see anything of the person’s front due to the increasing glare behind him, I knew this was a man, and that this man was facing me. Watching me. On the other side of the crossroads. Just before dawn.
I did not see him approach. It was impossible for him to come to that place without me seeing him. My view of the intersection is unobstructed and there were no buildings or vegetation nearby for him to lie in wait.
Before I had planted my feet, I had looked around very carefully. Traffic was off in the distance and the only thing passing on the road was sound. No other person was in view before I looked down to check my footing.
The wind pulled tears to my eyes as I stared him down. Immediately over his head I watched the horizon prepare to break the hold of night. Four minutes. I just need four specific minutes. And by heaven or hell, I’m going to have those four minutes.
The first point of sunlight on the horizon pierced my attention like a heated needle. I held my ringed hand to my chest so that the ring’s stone faced the light. Still staring at the darkening image of the man across the intersection, I recited the first two prayers perfectly from memory as if he was the audience I had been waiting for my entire life.
I had to glance at my phone for the next set of prayers. The shift in light was enough that when I looked back at the emerging sunrise, the glare completely obscured him. I completed my prayers, spoke my concerns, and in a heady mix of indifference and defiance, dropped down to the shallow at my feet.
The jar was quickly filled with the dirt I had uncovered. The resulting hole was quickly filled with the complete contents of the previously unopened bottle of whiskey. The topsoil was pushed back to cover what I had done. Any other time, I would have laughed to see the redisturbed worm flailing about again before slipping into the loosened soil out of sight.
I capped and tucked the jar in my coat pocket as I stood, slipping off the ring into the pocket as well. The ring was not to see sunlight for another three dawns, after all.
I braced myself for the man to be closer to me than when I had looked down. Even though I had only turned away for thirty seconds at the most, that was enough time for someone to run across the intersection and be approaching me in the field.
I looked up and saw the sun just barely clearing the horizon. Dawn had triumphed over the night and the day had truly begun. The increasing angle of light meant there was no glare to hide anything on the ground around me. I lowered my sight to face the watcher.
The man was gone.
I quickly turned around to survey everything around me. I was alone in the field. Alone at the intersection. Alone without even a passing vehicle to remind me that I was alone. Even the wind had ceased such that I stood unmoving in the midst of an unmoving field. I questioned if I had fallen asleep on my feet and had dreamt everything.
The disturbance of dirt at my feet and the heaviness of the filled jar in my pocket informed me that I had not.
I realized I had not been afraid as I came to the crossroads because I recognized the fear that was chilling me as I left it. I turned to leave and the wind moved to greet me, blowing warmly from the west as it had done steadily to all the trees in the distance.
I walked out of the field via a different path and side than I had entered it, and crossed the intersection via different routes as well. It would be half a mile of travel before I allowed my path back home to retrace my path from home.
The dedication of the ring was completed in full in the comfort of home without any complications. It remains a catalyst that inspires, inflames, and increases the effects of certain workings.
I have walked and driven past that intersection many times since that morning. It remains as I encountered it, isolated between domestication and wilderness. I have seen many pedestrians walk the crumbling remnants of the concrete sidewalk and trip over the intrusions of asphalt from the road.
But I have not seen that man again. However, I now understand that the question of who he could have been, or even if he even was, is not important. The important question is the one that brought me to the crossroads in the first place.
What does freedom look like to me? It looks like staring fear in the face and saying “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it anyway.”