The rusted ladder screeched under her weight as she made her ascent. Step by step with an even keel. The peeling paint scraping on skin and staining her palms. The street was silent all around her. A few lights coming on in the distance but most people still blissfully asleep and as of yet unaware of the day. Seventeen steps she recognised without looking. The rooftop wasn’t much. Black tar and bad patch jobs. A water tower and an up-turned bucket for sitting. She didn’t come here for the décor. She came for the view. A different outlook on the world. It was quieter up here out of the street. A vast expanse of buildings and rises that stretched in every direction for miles. It was cathartic. It solidified her place in the world. The sun was coming up and would soon burn the morning dew off the surface of everything. It couldn’t remove her demons as easily. It could only illuminate all the cracks and crevices where all the dark is hidden. All the hidden parts that no one sees could be exposed in this light. Here on top of a deli and a few apartments where people did mundane daily things in an unremarkable fashion she came to feel exposed. The heat on her skin at the dawning of a new day. That monstrous power and energy outlining her very being. Cradling her and bathing her in something new, something that wasn’t there before.
Anxiety. Calm. Panic. Tired. I can’t remember the point anymore. So many arguments and bad memories but in that moment that is not what I think about anymore. All I can feel is the heat in my ears, the lump in my throat and a confusing mixture of sadness and hopelessness and letting go. My hands are trembling and my stomach is jumping. I am caught between holding on and letting go. I’m resisting what I have known was the inevitable. Clinging and grabbing at thin air. Air made thinner and thinner by the lack of feelings between us. Where there was once a swampy thick heady mixture of lust and feeling and emotion, now there is just this. Just you and me and a phone connection. It is human nature to connect and hold on. We hold onto dreams when we know they aren’t realistic, we hold onto hope when its presence crushes us, we hold onto people when we should just show them the door. I was never good at letting go. I still have scraps of paper from my childhood. I put sentiment in every action. I imbue objects with meaning long after they lose their function and familiarity. Relics of a life yet lived. So sitting there, gasping for breath and clinging to the memory of hope, I fool myself again. I do what I know I do so well and I lie to myself. I cannot lie to anyone. It’s written on my face, all blushing and darting eyes, screaming “this isn’t true, I’m sorry” but I am an expert at lying to myself. I can’t act but I’m an actress in my own life. I tell myself whatever it takes to stop change. To prevent the crash. To unexploded my life. But one of the mysteries of life is that even with our maniacal need to have hope and dreams, when the dust settles and you take that first true deep breath for yourself, there is a deep relief in beginning again. Real adventure in the remaking of yourself.
The light had been fading fast and she yawned hard fighting sleep. She felt her jaw muscles stretch and burn and her eyes so heavy they could just close in an instant. Her hands were limp on the steering wheel and her gaze was easy on the horizon. The sun had set long ago and the blue in the sky was now murky and cold. Stars on the dark horizon showed the open road. An open road was either freedom or a struggle, she hadn’t decided. She shook herself to jolt the heavy sleep from her mind. Turning the radio up loader she held a cigarette between her fingers and felt on the seat beside her for the lighter. Joni Mitchell lulled and wooed her from the speakers and the lit cigarette glowed warm and bright. She had left so quickly, random clothes stuffed into an old bag and some money from the dresser drawer. The backseat debris was all she had now in the world. She pushed this thought to the back of her mind, it wouldn’t do to be sad now. She had made her stand and she needed to follow this road until it came out at another end. If she went back there would be no future and they both knew it. She had said it first and now they needed to feel it to believe it. They had met years ago, so many years , when they were just children. They were all they had ever known and if she stayed he would be all she ever knew. It wasn’t enough anymore. A dead end job, the bar on weekends and the hot sticky sleepless summers. It hadn’t happened all at once. It was like a little itch. A little niggle that had started a year ago for what seemed like no reason at all. As the days and weeks wore on that itch had turned to a rash that had her full attention. It permeated every situation and even if it was invisible to everyone else, it was all she could see. It was like poison in her blood and she was seeking a treatment. She had wanted to tell him, to explain but it was useless. It couldn’t be explained. It had to be felt and it would not be ignored. She didn’t wait around to see his face. She could imagine the sorrow and hurt changing into that flash of anger. Leaving the house her heart had been jumping out of her throat and her ears rang with the terror of the unknown but once she was on the open, unending road a stillness had descended. Nothing was clearer but everything was possible and it would be ok.
I stood outside for ten minutes before I could get up the courage to go inside. Pacing slowly, hands in pockets, face buried in my scarf against the bitter chill of the night air. Lexington Avenue was humming. Commuters passing in all directions, horns sounding the impatience of rush hour and my edgy figure stalling in a darkened doorway. “Man up” I told myself, “its just drinks and meeting new people”. I have never relished the thought of new encounters. Its not about other people, its how they might perceive me. An older women in a volumous coat lingers a second in the doorway before entering the bar. The warmth is so inviting. “Ok” I tell myself, “it’s now or never, just do it”. Feet of lead crossing the threshold. I am greeted by a smiley man. His hat is pulled low over his eyes so his smile is all I can see, a bit like a Manhattan chesire cat. He ushered me to the nametags and told me to enjoy myself. By this stage that inviting warmth has turned to uncomfortable sweating and I would kill for an ice-cold coke. The power of advertising has always been my foe. I had originally signed up for a running group, but as with all things nowadays that meant after work drinks. I made awkward conversation with a mismatched bunch of people some of who thought we were here for a singles night, others were members of the New York knitting meet-up. The conversation was flowing as well as it could amongst strangers with mismatched interests and even the standoffish grumbling of David, a Hungarian and our newest fledgling chatter didn’t stopper the flow. Then out of the fuzzy velvet shimmer of the doorway curtains stepped Marcuitio. He was the head of my supposed running group but was in fact a chuck Norris lookalike in a velour tracksuit. Even in all black he was quite a sight. He announced himself to the group as a famous director. I didn’t know whether to believe him or whether this was just an excuse for the cap and sunglasses in an already dark bar. Either way he looked more three blind mice than Stephen Spielberg. Only in New York right. Upon hearing I planned to try to run on a regular basis, he clasped my hands in his, the way a priest might when giving his condolences and explained the pros and cons of marathons. I was too busy thinking of Chuck Norris memes to hear any of this but when I did zone back in I realized I was nodding alone to a suggestion that I be in one of his films. For an instant I imagined myself like Rita Hayworth or Audrey Hepburn but then I removed my clammy hand, made my excuses and exited stage left. I figured if I needed ten minutes to gather my courage to enter a bar Id need a lifetime to get behind a camera. I paused on the stoop and looked up at the sign overhead. I might just have left Nirvana but I was pretty sure I had escaped the twilight zone.