For the first time ever, the author is given permission to go outside alone—in New York City
I stared longingly out my bedroom window on the thirty-third floor of my New York City apartment building. I could almost hear the babbling of New Yorkers walking down the labyrinth of streets that unfolded in front of me. My skin tingled in the warmth of the bright summer sun radiating down on the Earth. My mouth salivated as I imagined the countless delicacies in all of the magnificent restaurants, which were scattered across the streets.
However, when I opened my eyes, I saw the distance between me and the life I desired. I felt as if I were a spectator in an exciting ball game, wanting to play. I envied them all for the one gift they had that I didn’t possess, a gift I had craved for so long: the gift of pure and complete freedom.
Suddenly, I heard the click of the key unlocking the door. I detached my gaze from the window and wandered to the door as my mom walked in. She had a casual posture, with her black handbag slung across one shoulder. Her gentle embrace brought me warmth and security.
“You were bored today, weren’t you?” my mom asked. I simply sighed in return. Camp would not start for an entire week, and my anticipation of its fun and joy was dwarfed by the monotonous passing of time, during which I did chiefly nothing. Taking pity on me, my mom uttered the sentence that would change my life in the days to come: “I’ll speak with Dad and see if there is anything you can do.”
Knowing not to get my hopes up, I just shrugged my shoulders. And upon noticing my mother’s tired face, I put on a big smile and said in an enthusiastic voice, “Okay. Thanks.” The rest of the evening passed uneventfully.
The next morning, my eyes were suddenly flooded with light as I rolled over on my bed and reluctantly got up. I then stared out my window and saw crisp blue skies, mere wisps of clouds, and the bright summer sun.
“Hey, Shri!” my mom called.
“Yeah?” I replied, nearly jumping off my bunk bed in response to my mother’s voice.
“Always keep your phone with you, and don’t cross the streets when there is a red light,” she said. After this command, my mom went on and on about safety, but I was perplexed.
“Don’t cross the street when there’s a red light?” I repeated, my neurons firing a mile a millisecond trying to explain this phenomenon. “But I’ll be inside the entire day,” I stated flatly.
My mom started to laugh, and it was then that I knew something was amiss. “Don’t make me regret this,” she muttered as she sucked in a deep breath and once again started talking. “I’m granting you permission to walk outside alone,” she stated.
I was downright shocked. I had been asking for this privilege for years, and I had always been turned down. I had eventually given up. “But why?” I asked, and immediately wished I hadn’t. I prayed that she wouldn’t take back this privilege.
“You’re almost a fifth-grader. Your dad and I think you should have this experience,” she said. With that, she ran to the door and I was left alone to contemplate my mother’s statement. I live on the Upper East Side, a friendly community in general, but one that has its share of dangers and obstacles. My gaze naturally drifted toward the window, and it was then, at that moment, the choice became clear: I could finally have the life I had coveted for so long.
Suddenly, my phone started to buzz, long and loud. I put my hands over my ears, praying it would stop. I had received nearly eighty messages, each one of them from my mom regarding safety. I glanced around my apartment, and then I looked at the door.
When I’d finally stepped outside of the apartment building, the warmth of the beaming sun spread throughout my body, from synapse to axon, and a sense of joy overcame me.
Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my phone and tentatively stepped outside my apartment into the neat hallway with high ceilings and chandeliers and an elaborate jade-green carpet. I did not know what I had expected from this mere action. I anticipated a feeling of freedom, but my feelings seemed to be entirely quotidian and regular. Despite my best attempts to have hope, it seemed to fade away. I’ll feel something when I walk outside, I thought.
Nevertheless, as I got into the elevator and pressed “Lobby,” causing the elevator to start descending, my feelings of doubt returned.
The elevator reached the lobby with a ding, and I apprehensively crept toward the automated doors. The doors, which, when opened, would lead to freedom.
When I’d finally stepped outside of the apartment building, the warmth of the beaming sun spread throughout my body, from synapse to axon, and a sense of joy overcame me. As I wandered around, I saw the neat and elegant streets of NYC with all of the diversified shops, hotels, apartment buildings, and even the occasional hospital magically crammed into one mere city block. It was as if I were wearing glasses; I was seeing the same picture, magnified. I saw little babies attempt to master the motor skills required to stand up, and the resulting smiles of the passersby. After that, I went into a huge park where I started to play for a little while.
After many more minutes of in-depth “tourism,” I felt the stress of my studies and the responsibilities of becoming a fifth-grader disappear and dissolve into thin air. I felt my shoulders sigh a breath of relief and gratitude as the burdens of everyday life somehow sprouted wings and started to fly. My mind no longer concentrated on my worries and problems but rather on the countless attractions around me.
I was admiring the flowers in full bloom and was engrossed in their pure beauty when the laughter of a boy finally brought my attention back to the real world.
I glanced at my watch. Was it 3:45 already? I started to feel my legs ache. Had I really been playing for that long? I vaguely recalled a text from my mom informing me to be home at 4:00. I suddenly realized the truth in the old adage “Time flies when you are having fun.”
As I started to head home, I came to a sudden halt. I felt my entire body tense up as I scanned my surroundings. I looked in all directions, and I saw nothing with even an ounce of familiarity in my line of sight. Sweat started to trickle down my forehead, and my eyes started to well up with tears. I quickly realized that the intimidating structures, which towered far above me, bore no resemblance to the ones near home. In a fit of frustration, I stomped with so much force my knees buckled, and my balance ceased to exist. “Need some help?” a voice asked. I tilted my head and to my surprise saw a boy, no older than me, twirling a basketball in his hand.
“No,” I said, trying to stand up and collect myself.
“Really,” he said, his lips curving upward. I looked at the boy: his eyes were the lightest shade of blue, and his pale face was mostly covered by his blond hair. He was sporting a Knicks outfit from his T-shirt to his shoes.
With what I hoped was a nonchalant tone, I asked, “Do you know where ‘here’ is?”
“Eighty-sixth and Second,” he said. “Are you lost?”
“Of course not,” I lied. There was no way I would get home in time. Suddenly, an idea started to take shape in my head. “Do you know where the Q train is?” I asked hopefully.
“Look behind you,” he said. I felt my face turn red yet again, and I despised my lack of observation and momentary blindness.
“Thanks again,” I yelled as I took off and rounded the corner. Waving one more time, I practically sprinted toward the escalator. It was already 3:54.
With a nod of gratitude for my mom’s million messages, which had included advice to bring a MetroCard, I swiped my MetroCard into the metal turnstile and ran as fast as my legs could carry me. Without a second thought, I leaped into the train just in time. As the voice said, “Doors closing,” I took a seat and for the umpteenth time, glanced at my watch. It read 4:02. The train rumbled and took off while I glanced out the window and saw the color black.
Minutes later, the train came to a screeching halt, “This is 96th street.” I put my face in my hands as I got off the train. Why? Why was this happening to me? I then kicked the large grey pole as hard as I could. A sudden pain started to sink in, but my rage easily dwarfed it.
To relax, I decided to use some of my mother’s teachings on deep breathing. I was able to calm my racing and raging thoughts, which then allowed me to think rationally. I took a deep breath as my mother had taught me, making my mind clear at first and then focusing on my problem.
Then it hit me. If I came here by one train, then the opposite train would be my savior. In seconds, I cheerfully hopped aboard the downtown train to head home.