It’s early July and the temperature has been somewhere in the volcanic spectrum for weeks. The dead air too much to bear anymore, I yank at the screen window in an upward motion. Whoever installed it, however, did so in a hurry. I’m left in a tug-and-pull war of budging the unleveled frame inch by sweaty inch up the dent-marked aluminum tracks. After the struggle ends in victory, I push my head outside and take a deep breath.
There’s not much to see from my forth-story room during the summer because the towering trees, a rare commodity in many of America’s city neighborhoods, are at their fullest. Every twenty minutes, however, I am reminded of the world of concrete, steel, and stress that is just beyond this deceiving urban canopy. Less than a block away the above-ground tracks of the J/M line cut through the neighborhood, and the trains thunder by 24-hours-a-day, carrying parcels of human laborers from home to work and from work to home and over and over again.
Then I start thinking of how with each faint breeze, a near-impossible number of leaves hush away the sound of the busy lives of sidewalks just out of view behind the trees. My eyes fall into the sea of green, watching as each breeze flips the dark green leaves up to reveal their light green bottoms that fall back down like foamy waves breaking on the shore. Slowly, the sounds and thoughts of right now drift upstream as I linger behind in my personal unconscious.
It had been a long afternoon having to cope with the heat and sun which had nearly killed off all the grass in the field where my friend’s wedding was going to be held. The only sign of life as far as vegetation in Tennessee that summer goes could be found in the produce section at the grocery store—most of that…imported from other states and countries. After the rehearsal and dinner, she dropped by to pick me up. It was a fairly normal drive back to my parent’s house the next county over. Driving down the highway, which had taken on the appearance of an oil-slicked sea due to the heat rising off of the asphalt, we both caught a glimpse of two birds.
Playfully chasing each other in an acrobatic display of affection, their maneuvers brought out a memory of playing tag with other children on the playground in elementary school. My mind became caught on the face of one child, in particular. She was a little, freckle-covered, redhead that I first met in second grade when her family moved to my hometown. I remember her standing in front of the class, nervously staring at the floor as the teacher introduced her to her new environment. But given time, she was able to escape her shell.
Sometime after graduating from high school and after everyone had set out on their own paths, I heard that the redheaded girl had died in a car accident. As that thought dispersed, the two little birds suddenly dived in front of the car. In an instant one bird managed to propel upward like a rocket, emerging unscathed. As my eyes jumped up to the rearview mirror, I could see the body of the other bird viciously, rolling across the the center of the lane—feathers raining down. I turned my head toward her and she looked at me with a face caught somewhere between deep sadness and awe.
The night before the wedding, the bride and groom threw a mutual bachelor/bachelorette party around his family’s pool. Everyone and their significant others were there, but I was alone. The guy that would be performing the service showed off his brand new e-cigarette to me. I acted as interested as possible, but i’m sure that mask wasn’t pulled off as gracefully as it could have been. “That thing runs on USB 2.0? Ya don’t say.”
The countryside sky was something else that night, but all I could think about was the sky in NYC. There, the sky is devoid of stars. The only lights to be seen are flickering, pale-yellow streetlights and blinking red dots on the wings of airliners going in and out of JFK or LaGuardia. However, one of the brightest lights at night that I’ve come to accept as a normal fixture of the NYC night sky is the spotlight of an NYPD helicopter as it combs the streets for miscreants and murderers. That’s one guiding star I have no desire to follow. One of my friend’s at the party must’ve seen me zoned out, and noted, “Looks like you’re thinking too much.” Whenever someone says something like that, I know it’s time to drink another beer. The night went on and on and the empty beer bottles piled up. At some early morning hour, she dropped by to pick me up after having hit the town with her girlfriends. The ride back to our place the next county over was a spinning blur of silence.
The next day, standing with the groom under the big oak tree in the parched field, I kept looking for her but couldn’t find her anywhere. She said she’d be there on time. Close to the very end of the service, I finally saw her walking down the hill towards the ceremony beneath the spreading tree. She was wearing one of her signature-colored dresses. Beautiful as ever, she somehow managed to walk in high heels across the dry Earth. She may have been late, missing the whole wedding show, but I let it go because she was finally there, and I could once more think to myself, “I’m not alone.”
A few months after the wedding, things simply unraveled. I found myself suddenly living in a closet-sized box in Brooklyn. It was a strange and terrible adjustment. Learning and remembering to buy certain foods and household items is quite a task when you’ve been working together with someone else towards the same goal for several years. Doing laundry…Let’s not even think of that. Just drop it off at the local laundromat, and let them take it from there. Getting a haircut? For months I just avoided it.
Transitioning into a different environment is not always that much fun or as exciting as some people claim—for children or adults. At first, you feel like the new kid in school. Extremely shy in a room full of new faces, you delve too far into self-doubt as you consider your inability to quickly discover where you’re supposed to stand when the rules and roles have already been established. You rarely speak, and wonder what’s wrong with the world. You may pick at everything possible that you know about yourself and begin to draw inward. Eventually, however, you’ll find the correct rhythm. You’ll meet new faces and find that you’ve cracked your shell open as you lock eyes with a someone at a party. You might even get a haircut, finally.
Time moves forward with or without you, and you realize and accept this. Still, you may find yourself occasionally looking into the rearview mirror for signs of life or you might fall into a mirage of sea-like leaves, but eventually the sound of reggaeton blaring from the local bodega will remind where you are. Like the face of the redheaded girl I first saw on the elementary school playground or when one bird was no longer there for the other, the memories still linger—somewhere, hidden in the hush of leaves on the hottest of days.