“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
The early morning breeze twirls my hair, whispering secrets of it’s wisdom in my ears. One of the three highest skyscrapers is beneath my feet, the Empire State Building. I look over the railing and the constant stress of “the city that never sleeps” seems nonexistent. From up here it’s as though no one is rushing through the rough, silver sidewalks to get to work in a glass castle. No one is checking their watches and scurrying about the garbage filled streets. Although I know the idea of New York City being serene seems silly, but from 102 stories above, it seems just so. I enjoy the views from high places, not because of the adrenaline, or because of the need for release of a dreadful life, but because the reality of the world is crushed to dust, thrown into the wind, and free to interpretation.
The journey to and from my little escape world is the most exhausting part of the walk. The key is to avoid all possible communication and various encounters with businessmen and other strangers. I barely make it down to the 20th floor when the elevator doors slowly open, letting a group of men in dull colored suits into my small space. I sigh in quiet frustration as I stand in the corner, avoiding eye contact and listen to their “adult” conversation. I prefer watching people from above so I don’t have to deal with their awareness of me, so I don’t have to know them, and I can freely assume what their lives are like.
Reaching the first floor, I scurry out of the elevator full of empty suits, with the soles of my sneakers screaming on the floor. I push through the doors to the building and find my reality of the city shattered and lit on fire. So many bodies bumping into each other without a care for anything but their cubicles, and how fast they can get to them. The sun hides itself behind clouds like it is scared of the reality of the citizens of New York City. I look up and the wind no longer whispers in my ears, it shouts. I can barely tell if it is the wind or the unforgiving sea of people pushing me about. Before I notice how much time has passed, I find myself at my family’s home.
It has only been a few hours and I already want to go back to that tower of glass, but I need to have some time away from imagining who is down on those streets beneath me. Even though I might know the answer, I keep trying to change it. Somehow, everything is so much more beautiful from far away. Once you get close, you can see how ugly so much of the world really is.
As I climb the little marble staircase towards my floor, I listen to the slow beginning of a rainstorm against the glass windows. It echos through the empty lobby, mimicking the quiet clicking of my copper toned shoes against the dated stairs. I reach my floor and glide down the vacant hallway; the smell of soaked concrete already drifting through a cracked window. Just as I unhinge the lock to my front door, and the scent of my mother’s cooking reaches my nostrils, a distant voice calls me to consciousness.
“You can’t just sleep all day Alice.” My eyelids flutter open and then close again as bright light floods over my snow white bed. My mother pulls the black striped curtains open with one swift movement and chuckles as I yank the cozy sheets over my head. I rub my eyes and glance out the wide window. Tiny raindrops cover the glass, behind them is a grey sky.
“What time is it?” I yawn and slowly sit up off of my heavy pillow. Through my deep sleep, I was lucky enough to have my wheaten locks tangled to their limit. I look in the reflection of my dim phone screen and see a pair of bottled green eyes staring back at me.
“Past noon,” my mother chirps, “Far too late to be in bed. You’re lucky they haven’t expelled you from your school yet.”
She walks swiftly out the door and down the hall, leaving me to ponder the vivid dream that fades slowly from my memory.
Stepping on to the street, I pull my hood over my hair and take a deep breath. The smell reminds me of my dream. How would a dream have such realistic details? I sigh, aggravated that all I can vividly remember from the dream is that scent. And a crowd. I blink and see a bustling street, hundreds of people rushing every which way. Desperate for more details, I walk briskly down the sidewalk, taking in every possible image, sound, and smell. My foot makes contact with a puddle, cold water soaking into my shoe and another image floods back. I feel the crowd, bumping into one another, into me. I feel their urgency and see the looks on their faces reflecting off glass.
Glass. I spin and face my own reflection in a store window, and for a second I can see it; an endless building touching the clouds. I jog through the streets, weaving between people as I enter a more bustling area of the city. Before I know it I crane my neck and stare towards the sky. The Empire State building looms before me, wind whispering in my ears, urging me to continue my search for the meaning of the dream.
As I step into the elevator I close my eyes. I often dream of being high above the world, staring down at a clouded reality. Being too far to see the imperfections has always left me with a calm, tranquil sensation. Some people need a trip to the spa every once in awhile to let go of the stress they cling to on a daily basis. Instead, all I need is distance. The literal divide that separates me from the bustling world below is like a detox. I can already feel the calm set over me as the elevator quickly flies towards the summit. When I finally reach the top, I step into the drizzling rain and towards the edge of the balcony.
Gazing down on the millions of people my dream slowly comes back. I was in this exact moment, hair whipping around my face, breeze dancing past my ears. I grip the divide and feel as though I’m missing one piece of the puzzle. Something in my gut tells me there’s more to this feeling. I glance around at the nearly empty viewing area and slip towards the far corner. I push myself onto the stone bench, standing on my tiptoes to peer over the metal divide. I can’t help myself from placing one foot after the other between the spaces in the railing, and swinging myself over. I lower myself so my feet are planted firmly on the wet stone, and my hands are behind my back, securely gripping the wrought iron.
I breathe deeply and look about. It feels as though I’m flying, thousands of feet above any ugliness, any pain in the world. I’m surrounded by only beauty and the quiet sound of the rain on the building behind me. This is that feeling I was searching for, the deepest sense of calm that I felt in my dream. And I never wanted it to end.
“Hey! What are you doing?!” A man in a black rain jacket rushes towards me.
“Oh! It’s not- I’m not-” As I turn to climb back over the fence, I can see the concern in his eyes. “I’m fine! Don’t worry, I’m coming back ov-” In the process of spinning around, my wet sneaker slides across the slick stone. My feet fly from under me and my hands which felt so securely wrapped around the fence, slip down through the rain. I hang for a moment by the tips of my fingers. Finally, they too slip.
I plummet, almost in slow motion towards a city that gets uglier and uglier with every moment that passes.