I’ve only been here a day, but I’m already in love. With everything. Everything about New York is beautiful. The culture, the community, the closeness of the city blocks, the diversity of the people, the languages, the shops– Everything. My hotel room window, five stories up in the middle of a busy street, gives me a bird’s eye view as the energy flows through the streets. I know that this city is where I belong.
I belong here, but I know I can’t stay. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my whole life. Never left, never experienced anything else. I know that my dad wants me to live close to home, tending to the farm and the crops back in Wisconsin until the end of my days, but that’s just not me.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my family. We used to go camping way out in the wilderness and look at the stars. My dad would point to them, way up in the sky, and tell me how one day I could harvest the stars. Now, looking up to the heavens in New York, I don’t see any stars. The street lights block any sign of them. But here I can see something greater, something that warms my heart more than the stars: people, each with their own story to tell.
I love this city like I’ve lived here my whole life, almost like I actually was born here. I have grown closer to the city every second I’ve been here. In only one day, I’ve visited parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. And out of all those places, the place I feel most connected to is the middle of Times Square.
I went out at noon and just stood there, right in the middle. I turned, around and around, taking in as much as I possibly could, letting my eyes glaze over until I could just see the remnants of all the ads spinning in my mind. It was exhilarating. It seemed as if I was taking all that I love about New York and internalizing it, so it will never leave me. And I don’t even care that I looked insane.
Now, I’m just getting off the subway. I’m heading back to my favorite spot in Times Square, which encompasses everything I love about this beautiful city. The spot is underneath the umbrella of a hot dog stand, near to the building where the ball drops each new year. I keep my eyes squeezed almost closed, not wanting to expose myself to the light until the absolute perfect moment. I let the crowd push me around a little, knowing that I have all the time in the world to get where I want to be.
I’m heading home to my family tomorrow. I just wanted one last look at this place, where my heart will remain until I can visit again. I don’t know when I’m going to make it back here, but definitely not soon. I blew all my existing cash getting a ticket here and one back. However, now that I’ve finally seen this city, I don’t know how I will be able to bring myself to leave. This trip has seemed like a dream, and a lovely one. But going back to Wisconsin… I don’t know. I don’t want the dream to end. I don’t want to wake up.
I’ve reached my spot, right next to the umbrella. I check my watch– almost midnight. I want to take my last look at that exact moment, so I keep my eyes peeled to the floor, trying to contain my anticipation.
I think about home, just then. Not my home in particular, but the meaning of home. The concept of a home. To some, any old house can be a home. It doesn’t matter where it is. Others think of family as home. Wherever the family is, the home travels. But for me, it’s different. I don’t know why, but New York City is my home. I’ve never lived here, nor even been here before. But I know, in my heart, that I am meant to be here.
I check my watch again– 11:54. How slowly can time possibly move? I want to look up so badly, but I won’t allow myself to do it. I want this last New York experience to be perfect, and it has to happen at 12:00. I’ll never forgive myself if I mess this up.
The crowd is trying to grab me away from my chosen spot. When you are in Times Square, all the individual people blur together, and just become one relentless sea, pushing at you from all directions. It’s hard to stand your ground underneath the incessant pressure. As I think this exact thought, a man runs straight into me. “Ouch, watch it!” He strings a choice set of words together after that, which I don’t listen to. Okay, maybe not everything about this city is absolutely perfect. But it’s pretty damn close.
As the final seconds tick away until midnight, I hold my breath. This has to be amazing. It has to be beautiful. 11:59:54… I truly can’t breathe. I take in a little gasp, as a fish would. 11:59:55… So close to my goal, I consider cheating a little and missing it by a few seconds. But my conscience wouldn’t be able to take it. So I wait, and count down under my breath. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
My eyes flit up at once, and I can feel my pupils shrink as the light attacks me with full force. I take it head on, squinting at first, then opening my eyes wider and wider, until my jaw drops practically of its own accord. The advertisements for fast food, movies, tv shows, stores, and clothes all blend together as I start to spin. Now I’m laughing, and spinning, and the colors are whizzing by so fast… But something makes me stop spinning.
I see it out of the corner of my eye at first. I turn, and look straight at it. A single red balloon, untethered, free, floating up and away.
Its ascent is majestic. It rises slowly, grandly. The wind seems to not have any effect on it. It just keeps getting higher and higher. It is hopeful that it will reach the sky, but it isn’t taking risks. It approaches slowly, edging closer and closer to the heavens. And, though I know that balloon cannot possibly make it all the way up to the top of the sky, I want to believe in it. I want the balloon to achieve its goal. I want it to be able to break free from the lights of Times Square and fly up above the world.
I must look so small from up there. I see the balloon, but there’s no way it could see me. I am just another miniscule dot to the balloon. Yet in this moment, the balloon is everything to me. It is defying the norm, following its own path. I wish I was that brave.
I’m rooting for this balloon. And who knows? My balloon might be able to do it. It might just abandon all of the rules, and go free. I wish it could, but I know it can’t. The helium will run out, the balloon will deflate, and gravity shall claim it. It will fail.
My balloon can never reach its goal, but I realize that I can. I don’t have laws like gravity that can stop me from doing what I want to do. Watching this balloon has taught me something. I can take the same approach as the balloon, moving slowly, taking time to discuss moving to New York with my father, dropping hints, and eventually proposing it. I can move to New York. I can succeed. Unlike this balloon. I know its journey is doomed, yet I still watch it as it gains altitude until it blends into the dark of the night. I make a little salute, knowing how corny I look but not caring, and I turn away.
I’ll be back, I know it.
Hannah Berman, Age 14, Grade 8, Brooklyn Friends School, Silver Key