Sunny days can be troublesome for people with glasses. As the bright sun’s powerful rays pierce through the canopy of leaves and branches belonging to the tall trees surrounding me, they enter the glass lenses in front of my eyes and focus onto my eyeballs, the lenses become like a magnifying glass, my eyes knowing what ants must feel like right before they are scorched to death.
“You alright?” she asks when she sees me shielding my eyes.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Then keep up.”
I follow her. The sun makes me wish I had brought a water bottle. I never realized how expansive Manalapan Park was. My shirt is already drenched with sweat and it feels like my forehead is melting. She shows no signs of the heat bothering her, so I try to show none as well.
“You know where you’re going, right?”
“Trust me,” she insists, “I’ve never gotten us lost before, y’know.”
Silence is a funny thing. When a room, a building, or some outdoor area somewhere, is described as awfully quiet, it isn’t necessarily awful. It is in horror movies, of course, when the quiet is unsettling because danger is undoubtedly near, since, well, it’s a horror movie. But, sometimes, being in a place that is awfully quiet can actually be very refreshing. A stretch of train track that runs through Manalapan Park, near its border, out of way from the main areas of the park, was one of those places. It was one of those perfect spots, where one could enjoy nature and just think, according to her. The best time to go there is during the warmer months, when the hot sun seeps through the canopy of leaves and branches, courtesy of the trees on both sides of the tracks. Another great thing about this spot is how hard it is to get to it. She says it’s like it could be someone’s personal sanctum. It’s so far away, so far off from the marked path, farther away than the baseball fields or even the dog parks. You have to remember the trail there to get to this secluded section of the track. But I’d never been there before; I was just taking her word for it.
“Okay, here’s where you have to be careful.”
At one point in the woods we stopped and she pointed out two fallen trees on the top of the sloped hill right off the side of Hiking Trail 2, close to where two marked trees are too close together for it to make any sense for them to have marked both, but they did anyway. After getting past the trees you have to carefully walk down an even steeper hillside. You usually have to use this one tree’s hopefully strong branch to swing yourself over a bit.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m putting my backpack around so it’s like a front-pack. This way, when I swing over, its weight will be in the front, so it won’t drag me down or anything.”
After several careful steps down the hill, you’re back on the flat ground, standing on the railroad tracks, like one of the kids from that film from the ’80s, ‘Stand By Me.’
“Wow,” I say.
“Yeah, I know.”
The Township of Monroe is a small suburban community that usually can’t be found on a map of New Jersey due to its close proximity to its smaller, yet strangely much more famous neighbor, Jamesburg. It’s a growing town, and even now new roads are being laid down and more houses are being built as more and more housing developments add entirely new neighborhoods for new residents. More strangers, more names without faces for me to see for a few second every once in a while. There’s lots of messy construction work and random roadside litter throughout this town, ranging from shopping bags to cigarette lighters and even some torn umbrellas, from discarded cardboard pieces and plastic wrappers to even a used toothbrush once, of all things. Tall trees rustle in the wind and plenty of chirping birds, but heard more often are the clanking, pounding, and beeping sounds of construction work, low-flying airplanes, and many more police and ambulance sirens than you’d think there’d be.
There are no sounds of clanking, pounding or beeping here, though. No strange faces of names I’ll never know, there are no sounds at all save for the occasional rustling of the trees on what is a practically windless day.
“Hey, I actually can’t smell any urbanization in the air,” I say. No whiffs of tar, pavement, asphalt, or, for some reason or other, the surprisingly very occasional waft of burning wood. I don’t question why noise pollution has not reach this spot, though.
“Ready?” she asks.
“Huh? Oh! Uh, yeah.”
“Then hold it,” and she takes the picture. Before we started moving again, I stood up and looked around at this place.
“It’s so quiet.”
We started walking. This was a long railroad line laid through the forested part of the park that seemed to just go on forever, but this was a good thing. It was a beautiful scene, a rare piece of nature left untouched by the ongoing urban development, except for the occasional remains of cigarettes and beer bottles (and at least one ketchup bottle for some reason) along the sides of the dangerously rusting rails and splintering wooden boards beneath them. But I thought it was beautifully serene nonetheless. Further down the line the tall trees created a large canopy over our heads, blocking out the hot sun from bothering my eyes. It was so peacefully quiet, and the sunlight poured through the leaves and the branches in an almost ethereal way. It was breathtaking, really.
She was used to walking around here, though, so she seemed more interested in what weird stuff had been discarded along the train tracks instead.
“Hey,” I said, “This really is a nice place… Thanks for sharing it with me.” I was enjoying finding total serenity in that area, and it was even nicer that I was sharing it with someone I cared about. It was nice to visit some place where no sirens or construction work could be heard; where it seemed that the only things that existed in the world were just her, the elements of nature, and I.
“Hey, no biggie,” she said.
After talking and walking some more we followed the tracks’ curve to the right, where the canopy of tree branches over our heads became thicker, and even more sunlight was blocked out, creating a refreshing shade for us. We started to see the backyards of homes on one side of the track, meaning we were leaving the park. Then she asked a question.
“So what are you doing for graduation?”
I didn’t want to think about would happen in two weeks. “Nothing.”
“Nope.” She had brought me back to reality. In too short a time I’d be going off to someplace where she wouldn’t be going. “Well, um, did you hear back from Mercer yet?” I asked.
“I told you last week. I got in. Remember?”
I did, but I guess I didn’t want to. “Oh, right… well, good luck.”
“Hey, don’t be so dramatic.”
I should have brought my cell phone, or at the very least a watch. After what had seemed like hours of a trek I asked her for the time. Only thirty-five minutes had gone by. But those were some great thirty-five minutes. That is when we finally made it to where the train tracks met Buckley Road. My house was down the road and to the left. Hers was way down to the right.
“Well, um, I guess I’ll see you at graduation.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you later,” she turned to walk her way home by herself. I thought I should say something, but after months of uneasiness over timidity, I still couldn’t think of what to say to her. Instead I just watched her walk all the way up the road, around the corner and out of sight.
Without the trees blocking the rays my glasses became a magnifying glass again and my eyes became ants once more. The sounds of construction could be heard once again. My head felt heavy from the increasing sweat and I really needed to hydrate myself, but I didn’t complain. I later met up with her one last time, and we travelled back to that exact same quiet, peaceful place along the tracks near the edge of the park for one last hurrah, for one last serene walk, for one last talk with her, a talk I hoped would be a meaningful one. Because I knew I’d miss her. And I was right.