Barrow, Alaska, under the midnight sun.
I can still hear Smitty on the phone, in the last conversation we had, asking why I was coming here, why I was choosing to fling myself more than 3,000 miles north.
"You hate the cold," he had said then. "You fucking hate it, man."
"I know," I said. "But the French Foreign Legion won't take me." Neither would the Peace Corps, dashing my hopes to vanish into a jungle somewhere and teach English to people who click their tongues for language. Smitty was right: I do hate the cold. But some things are more enduring than hate.
Besides, Barrow sounds like an adventure. I'm not afraid of vampires. And it is summer now, when daylight lasts for more than 80 days and I never have to face the night.
I like it here; it is small and cloudy. It feels like my insides. No one here asks me how I'm feeling. No one here tries to find out why I don't smile. There is no danger of contaminating anyone I love. The reason for life has ended for me in Missouri. It's what I told Smitty on the phone before ringing off and leaving Springfield: "I must have something better to do." It's a twist on Liz Phair, but instead of going west, I have gone north. J'ai une âme solitaire.
I am walking past Barrow's library when on a whim I decide to go inside. Maybe it's warmer among the words. Books have always made me feel warm inside.
It is noisy inside the library — the sound of revelry where quiet should rule. I don't see anyone but I can hear dozens of people laughing. I start to shush the unseen crowd when I feel a hand settle on my shoulder.
"Everything is in a circle," the voice says. "Sad and happy. Life's trials must be taken with humor. Bad times come and go. Nothing lasts forever."
I shake my head. "It feels like the sun lasts forever here."
The hand lifts. The laughter stops. "Happy and sad. Everything is circular here. Everything is eternal. Everything lasts forever. Welcome to the Arctic Circle."
I walk outside into the polar night.