Supreme Court Sidewalk

March 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

The last time we walked by the marble steps of the Supreme Court, it was 4:30 pm and the late afternoon sun shone lazily in the sky. “Lazily,” because it couldn’t be bothered to provide us with any warmth. The weather itself was briskly chilly.

We sat in a group, 32 members strong on the cold marble, huddling for warmth.

“Do you guys want to camp out?” Mr. Chiang asked.

My eyes widened. YES, I said under my breath. PLEASE.

There was chatter and noise as people argued and complained about the cold.

“Can we go back to the hotel? It’s not worth it!” “But what if we WANT to sleep outside?” “Can we come early in the morning?”

And after about 20 minutes of useless argumentation, it was settled. Those of us who wanted to would camp out. The rest would stay at the hotel.

I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

Sara and I jumped up and down. “We’re camping out! We’re camping out!” we squealed. I stepped out onto the curb and flagged a taxi for my group of four. “Best Western Iwo Jima, Arlington,” I told the driver, and, brimming with excitement, we rushed back to the hotel.

In loud voices and barely contained excitement, we discussed what we were going to wear, what we were going to take. “Can I borrow your hat?” “Where are my tights?” “What shoes are you wearing?” “Do you think this will fit in the Supreme Court lockers?” “I NEED TO PEE.”

At the end of the frantic 10 minutes, I was wearing tights, knee-high socks, jeans, boots that came up past my calves, and waterproof pants over it all (in case we made snow angels). Four layers there, and five layers on top – a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, t-shirt, cardigan, cable-knit sweater, and wool coat. And a hat, gloves, and scarf (none of which matched). Yes, I felt massive. Sleeping bag and small necessities in hand, I marched out of the room with my dorm-mates and shut the door before racing to catch up with the rest of the group.

Fifteen of us walked under the slowly darkening sky towards the Supreme Court. At the last block, Sam and I looked at each other. Let’s sprint the last bit. And, muffled in our five layers, blankets and sleeping bags in hand, we ran down the cement sidewalk, joyously, youthfully, laughing and holding on to our hats, our scarves bouncing, panting, out of breath.

Later that night, I lay wrapped in a kiddie-sized sleeping bag and aluminum emergency blanket, my hood and purple beret serving as a pillow on the icy concrete. I looked to my left – Sara was turned on her side, facing Esther. I couldn’t tell if she was asleep or just laying down. I sat up. I saw a few people up and about, hopping up and down, engaged in a futile effort to warm themselves. I lay back down and looked to my right. I saw Mr. Chiang’s feet sticking out from under his aluminum blanket. I couldn’t even tell where his head was, he was so buried under his layers.

I looked up.

I saw a scattering of stars, looking like miniscule pinpricks of light, tiny granules of sugar in the dark, plum-colored night sky. I saw the bare branches of a couple of trees framing the magnificent view of the Capitol building, lit up so every pillar and every contour was outlined in its own charcoal gray shadow. I saw street lamps that tinged the purple above a slight orange, giving definition to the clouds that lay in wisps all over the sky.

I smiled slightly. I was tired, and my knees ached, and my feet felt – well, actually I couldn’t really feel my feet, despite the fact that I had stuffed handwarmers into the toes of my boots.

I didn’t reflect on the night at that point. I didn’t think about the interview with Adam Liptak of the New York Times, I didn’t think about our conversation with the blue-haired law student from George Mason, I didn’t think about our attempt at telling scary stories just a few minutes before.

I just smiled and imprinted every last detail of that view I had, lying there on the hard ground, onto my brain. I knew that I wanted the last thing I saw before falling asleep (little did I know that I would only sleep for half an hour) to be the sky and the stars and the Capitol Building.

I smiled. I watched. I pulled the obnoxiously bright turquoise sleeping bag up to my chin, wiggled my toes, pulled my hat over my eyes and my scarf over my nose and chin, and closed my eyes.

That was one beautiful night, that night. That 27 degrees Fahrenheit, deliriously cold and happy night spent on the cold hard cement of the Supreme Court sidewalk.

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