Just a short little piece written for class. I love the idea of New York and so wanted to involve it in a little fic-let.
Under the City Lights
The night is finally over as I step out of the bar in the Upper East Side of New York City, where I have been working as a bartender for the past six months. The air that envelops me is cool and I bundle up my jacket a little tighter. The air chills my lungs and I can see my breath as I breathe. It even smells cold out. All around me the streetlights are shining against the backdrop of city lights that shine all around me. With the sky so black, the city lights almost look like stars, with me in the middle of the universe, making me feel alive, even through my fatigue. The icy, cracked pavement below my feet is familiar, a route that I take five nights a week as I head toward the subway down on 103rd street.
I carefully make my way down the stairs, underground where the cool wind no longer reaches, careful not to fall on the ice that has frozen onto the first few steps. I get there just in time as the uptown 4 line pulls up to the station. I get on, taking the first seat on the right, keeping to myself as the other passengers climb aboard, including a group of teenagers, maybe about 17 or 18 years old, all looking energized and laughing at one another. Watching them makes me miss all the friends that I had left back home. I have met a few people in the past six months since moving all the way out here, but its not like being at home, with people who have known you your entire life, know you better than you know yourself even. But then again, there are also some things, some people, that I do not miss and that is what keeps me free.
I watch as the final passenger gets on the train, sitting two seats over from me. He has spiked blonde hair and is wearing a black jacket and blue jeans, finished off with black sneakers. I recognize him from the bar. He had come in alone and sat at the empty side of the bar, not really speaking to anyone, just drinking his beers. As I looked at him I noticed that he had a map in his hand as he studied it, turning it upside down before flipping it around again, trying to make sense of it.
"Lost?" I ask him. He looks up at me, surprised and maybe even a little embarrassed.
"Actually, I've been trying to get home. I just moved here and can't seem to make any sense of this city. These maps don't make any sense."
He hands the map over to me, as if to prove his point. I laugh as I take it, pretending to study it as well before looking back up to him.
"Where are you trying to get to?"
"Well, my apartment is up by Lehman College. I'm not sure if I'm headed the right way...these trains are a mess, I feel like all I've done is run around the city since I've come here."
"Your on the right train, so don't worry about that. This one will take you all the way there. You just stay on this until you get to Bedford Street."
"Thanks, this is actually my second attempt, I think I got on the wrong one the first time. I think I ended up on the 6 line."
"Yea, that definitely won't get you there. I know its confusing at first, but give it some time and you'll figure it all out. Its really not that difficult getting around. When I first came here I had the very same problem and that same look of confusion you have right now."
I smiled up at him as I tried to calm his worries and doubts. He indeed did remind me of when I first arrived out here. I felt so lost and this world of concrete was very intimidating. I had never even been to a big city before and I had moved out here on a whim. At the time I was running away, away from people, away from family and away from the life that I had known. I think that I was just so tired of being confined by absolutely everything in my life. All I knew was I wanted something different and the idea of New York City seemed as opposite and as far away as I could think of without leaving the country.
I had grown up in the small town of Sedona, Arizona, population 10, 031. Within that town was my family, all my friends and a controlling boyfriend. I hate to say this, but he is perhaps the main reason for leaving. To this day, I'm not ashamed to say that I ran. All I have to do is look around me and how far I have made it. Sure, I may only be getting by but I am getting by in New York and I know there is no shame in that.
"I don't think I want you going"
I looked up at Eric, my boyfriend of two years, the guy that everyone expected me to one day marry. My parents loved him, treated him like the son they never had and at one time, I think I once loved him too. Lately though, I've been questioning whether this was right for me and if this was the life that I had wanted. A small town life, where my only future was to marry, have children and grow old. Just the thought was suffocating enough to make me want to scream.
"Eric, its my cousin's birthday dinner, I have to go. Why must you always do this?"
"You know I can't go and you know I don't like you going places without me, so your not gonna go."
This is where our relationship has led us. He tells me to jump and I'm supposed to ask how high he wants me to go, or at least that's what it feels like.
"Jesus, Eric, it's just my cousin! I can't do this right now." I tell him as I get in my car, not wanting to argue with him anymore. We had been arguing for the past 45 minutes about me going to my aunt's house tomorrow, where she was going to throw a dinner party for my cousin's 19th birthday. He doesn't like me to go anywhere without him and it seems like all we do is argue anymore. I back out of his drive way and turn the radio up full blast, speeding past the local stores and after fifteen minutes I drive past the edge of town, leaving it in the rearview mirror. I stop and pull over as my common sense comes back to me. I take a deep breath and get out of the car taking in my surroundings. On one side, to the left of me is my tiny, desolate town in the distance. To the right, dirt and wide open space and I can't help but feel desperately alone. I smell nothing but dirt and hear nothing but dry wind. The silence is almost too much to handle, only adding to my sense of isolation. I bet if I screamed right now, there would be no one to hear it. I test my theory and am proven right. The mid-day Arizona heat is hard to breathe in at times and makes my body feel as if it is about to crack and crumble to the ground. The nothingness out here is suffocating, even more so than the town and people in the distance. The thought of returning depresses me, but I know that even with the wide open space, there is no place for me to go from here. I'm trapped by invisible walls. I feel like I am inhaling the red, dry dirt under my feet. It is at this moment that I can no longer take any of it and I make the decision that something must give. I need to get out before I'm crushed under the weight of my everyday life. I get back into my car and turn around and headed for my house, plan forming in my mind.
Within a week a I sold my old car to a friend of mine and had gathered the five thousand I had been saving over the past few years. With this money, I would get the hell out of dodge and get on with the rest of my life, with or without the helps of anyone else. My parents of course didn't like the idea of me leaving home, let alone town. In fact, when I told them of my thoughts of going to New York as a possibility, they flat out told me that I couldn't go. As if they weren't going to allow it. As if they could stop me.
"There is no way you are going!" My mother had scolded me as if I was a child.
"You'll never make it out there on your own. You need to get these thoughts out of your head girl!" My father wasn't much different.
I know my parents thought that I was going through a phase of rebellion and perhaps they were right, but part of me feels like I also needed to prove to the two of them that I can make it and that there is life outside of Sedona. My future does not have to be pinned down and decided for me. I felt that I at least owed myself a chance at life before giving up and succumbing to the "family" plans everyone expected from me.
"So do you like it out here? Don't you miss home?" The man from the bar asked me, pulling me from my thoughts and back onto the subway. Again, I smile at him.
"I miss my family and friends but I couldn't picture myself anyplace else. I'm always meeting new people and the city is so big and so full of life, I feel like for the first time I can breathe and I have the freedom to live, the freedom of possibilities and a future." I answer, looking up in time to take notice of my surroundings as the train pulls up the 149th street, my stop.
"I remember you from the bar earlier" I tell him "You should come back by tomorrow night."
He nods, sticking his hand out to shake mine.
"Zachary, and thank you. It'll be nice to be able to talk to someone familiar."
"Caroline and remember, just stay on this train until Bedford Street."
I look back at him one last time before stepping off the train, sincerely hoping that he stops by the bar the next night. I walk across the platform and hop onto the 2 line, which will take me home. While I'm not alone, there are less people riding with me than before. This time its me, a bum and a couple, the girl seemingly asleep on her boyfriend's shoulder. As I sit here I can't help but think back on memories of my family and what they expected of me. I can't help but feel a tinge of guilt that I may have let them down.
"So when are you going to finally settle down and give me grandchildren? Your sister already has three"
I rolled my eyes at my mom. My future, or rather lack of one, is my mother's favorite topic, one that she brings up any chance that she gets.
"Mom, I'm only 19, I think I have plenty of time for that. Besides, I don't know what I want to do just yet. Maybe I want to live a little."
"Oh, sweety don't be silly," She patted me on the back, as if I was a little girl needing comforting. "Your an adult now, its time for you to find to start thinking about getting married and starting a family. Eric is a good guy and he'll take care of you. You know he adores you."
"Take care of me? Right," I said sarcastically. " What if I don't want someone to take care of me. What if I wanted to go to school or something. Do something useful with myself?"
"There is nothing here that you need school for and you don't need to go to school to be married or raise children. You don't even like school."
"Well what if I wanted to travel, see the world?"
"You've never even been out of Arizona, where are you gonna travel to? You wouldn't know the first thing about being out in the world. Why can't you be more like your sister and just accept the way life is? Its high time you started to grown up and get rid of these childish fantasies."
At the moment, my sister came through the door, baby crying in her arms and two kids with sticky hands trailing behind her. I'm not sure whether to be thankful for the interruption or to bury my head in my hands and cry as my future walked through the door.
I shook the final thought from my head as the train pulled up to my final stop. My apartment was only two blocks from here and as I step back out into the city once more and am more confident than ever about my decision to move here. In front of my was the center of the universe and I was smack dab in the middle of it. Out there were buildings so tall they reached the heavens above, stretching out to eternity with no body to hold them back. Their lights shone around me, encompassing me in a sight that to this day amazes me, every night sending me into a state of pure awestruck.
I am struck again by the chill of the wind and I can smell the ocean, which lies not to far to the East. I had never seen the ocean until coming here and the sight of it was just another moment that took my breath away. The vast ocean was an escape if ever you were to time of the surrounding buildings.
As I made my way down the street towards my apartments I could hear music in the distance, most likely from another bar or club that had yet to close down. Yup, the city that never sleeps. Even at this time of night, almost three am, the city is still full of life and the knowledge of people nearby helps to quench any longing and longing for my friends that remained.
I approach my apartment, making my way up the step just in time for it to start to snow. Snow, something I hardly ever saw in Arizona and another sight that I can't help but appreciate. The snow flurries around me with no path or set direction, freely falling everywhere. Taking in the sight one last time, I turn and head into the apartment building, where I know my cat Chloe is waiting for me to come home.