It takes a little effort to get up here. First I have to check to make sure the superintendent isn’t around (since I’m not really supposed to be up here). After the excruciating job of walking up five flights of steep steps, I get to the large metal door. After a nudge and a push, voila, I enter my palace.
Well, it’s not much of a palace to most people. There’s graffiti all over the walls, trash here and there, and it is always slightly too hot or too cold. But the trip to my roof is not for my comfort. It is for a reality check.
I look down and feel a flood of warm childhood memories mixed with the harsh reality of a cruel environment. The Bronx has raised me in a way my parents could not. It has filled my memories with both joy and grief, but as much as I treasure this place and the memories that come with it, I long to get out.
To the right, I locate the neighborhood park. On its green painted basketball courts I learned to play my first American sport. I also realized that making a new friend was as easy going up to someone and asking to join their game of H.O.R.S.E. It’s where I learned to keep my head down and mind my own business while the older kids sold drugs.
I spot the Rodriquez Bodega on the corner. Mr. Rodriguez always greets me and brother in our native Bengali, “Kemon acho bondhu” (which means, How are you doing, friend?), though his accent is off. It shocked me to hear that his store was robbed at gunpoint a few weeks ago.
On the other side of the roof, across the Washington Bridge, I can see it: the great New York City skyline. There is no one word to describe how I feel when I look at the skyline; it’s a mixture of inspiration, comfort, awe, and despair. To think that this breathtaking wonder was made by human hands is difficult to comprehend. It had always been a dream of mine to let my own hands be a part of this contribution. I know that the island of Manhattan is far from a perfect place, but as an 11-year-old, looking up at that grand city at night, with its enormous buildings reaching the stars, I began to construct an idealistic view of the place. To me, it was perfection, my Metropolis, my El Dorado, my Emerald City. I dream of sitting at a desk on the highest floor of the highest building downtown, looking back at my little apartment roof in a dull corner of the Bronx.
But for now, I have to look up at my goals, not down at my victories. My ideal future involves me seated in the Emerald City, but there is a constant nagging at the back of my head. Doubt, fear, and gloom arise with the vision of another future. In this frightening future, I am 10 or 20 years older, standing in the same spot on this roof, still yearning to grasp my dreams.
My roof is no palace. It does not offer me a comfortable spot to lie down and rest my stress away. It does not offer me protection from the heat or cold in the harsh winters and humid summers. What my roof does offer me is a peek at my future. It helps me focus on my goals and decide on my present actions. It offers me fear. It offers me hope.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.