“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit
a very persistent one.” -Albert Einstein
The early morning breeze twirls my hair, whispering secrets of its 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. 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, from 102 stories above, it seems just so. I enjoy the views from high places, not because of adrenaline, or the need for release from a dreadful life, but because the reality of the world is crushed to dust, thrown into the wind, and open to interpretation.
The journey to and from my little escape world is exhausting. 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 listening to their “adult” conversations. 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. I can freely observe and assume what their lives are like.
Reaching the first floor, I scurry out of the elevator, the soles of my sneakers screaming on the floor. I push through the doors of the building and into the reality of my city – shattered and lit on fire. So many bodies bumping into each other without a care for anything but their work cubicles and how fast they can get to them. The sun cowers behind clouds like it is overwhelmed by the bustle. 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 home.
Already, I want to go back to that tower of glass, but I need time away from imagining who is down in those streets beneath me. Even though I know the answer isn’t glamorous, I keep trying to change it. Everything is so much more beautiful from far away. Once you get close, you can see the ugliness in the world.
As I climb the marble staircase, I hear the slow beginning of a rainstorm against the glass windows. It echoes through the empty lobby. I reach my floor and glide down the vacant hallway; the smell of soaked concrete drifts through a cracked window. Just as I unlock 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 against the bright light flooding over my bed. My mother has pulled back the striped curtains with one swift movement. I rub my eyes and glance out the wide window. Tiny raindrops cover the glass, behind them is a gray sky.
“What time is it?” I yawn and slowly sit up. In my deep sleep, my wheaten locks have been tangled to their limit. I look at my reflection in 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 onto 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 an even busier area of the city. Before I know it, the Empire State Building looms before me. Wind whispers in my ears, urging me to continue my search for the meaning of the dream.
I close my eyes as I step into the elevator. I often dream of being high above the world, staring down at a clouded reality. Some people need a trip to the spa to let go of the stress they cling to on a daily basis. All I need is distance. The literal divide that separates me from the bustling world below is a detox. I can already feel calm setting over me as the elevator flies toward the summit. When I finally reach the top, I step into the drizzling rain and toward 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 toward 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 the feeling I was searching for, the deepest sense of calm I felt in my dream. And I never want 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 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 toward a city that gets uglier and uglier with every moment that passes.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.