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Urbicapus, urbicapi, m. 2nd. - taker of cities. Traditionally used alongside “ship”, “armor”, “war”; a nearly obsolete word within an unspoken language. Yet, as languages change, words evolve. One who seizes is one who takes for h[er]is own. Caeser’s words “veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) resonate through centuries, conveying the ease & speed with which he expanded his power. With a new definition of city taker, this declaration holds true. To come and see – and thus understand & embrace – one conquers. A city becomes a piece of them, creating a new generation of
“Kelly, you would love Philadelphia!” The Benjamin Franklin Museum had me mesmerized and the University of Pennsylvania made me dazzled by the idea of going to college .
“I’m going to college there. I love it so much. You should come with me!”
“Philly cheese steaks are really good,” she mused. “Yeah! I’ll go to college there too!” Her logic was simple.
“Good! It’ll be so much fun! But I’ve never had a Philly cheese steak…”
“It’s okay, we’ll get one together. You’ll really like it.”
The top of New York is powerful. The top of New York puts you above millions, lets you look down on millions.
The top of New York has history. To the south, hurricane victims still rebuild. To the east, the base of the World Trade Center stands empty. Behind, Ellis Island holds countless stories.
The top of New York shows the future. Each day the Freedom tower stands taller, more complete.
The top of New York is humbling. A reminder that you are
and that you are one of the many
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Every step is forward, yes? Undeniably, forcibly, without return.
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
But what of that which came before? When a flame dies, its mark remains.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
To conceal the past is to burden the future. When free, it serves as the foundation for progress.
The Grand Place in Brussels has an amazing view of the sky, but you must see it from the ground. The surrounding towers create a perfect frame.
“Meg, you know you’re nuts?”
“No, Dad, I promise, this view is incredible.”
He decided to either believe or appease me and laid flat on the cobblestones next to me.
“You know what? This is pretty neat.”
He went back, years later, and sent me a text:
I look a little crazy lying here alone, but yours is still the best view in the city
Kim's to my left, Tyler beyond her. I see Vlad crawl out the bathroom window.
"Oh shit, finally found you guys. There's like 300 people in there."
"Yeah dude, exactly why we're not." Tyler laughs.
On my right, Ben's eying the bedroom window, clearly regretting that he let two girls convince him we're sober enough to not fall. (Ben is easy to convince).
It's pretty cold. Not worth getting a coat so I take a hit instead. People three stories down stumble through Allston, some approach the frat house. They don't realize it's better out here.
He kissed me in the middle of the ocean. His arm around my waist, pressing me in. The dark Brant Beach shore far behind, a sliver of light from the moon. I’ve never felt the sea that warm, but then, that may have been the Tennessee Honey.
The next big wave knocked me down but I didn’t even have the chance to fall before he sweeped me up. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” He kissed me again, then again. We knew it wouldn’t matter in the morning. But for that moment I let go.
Small towns know everything -who you were four years ago, where you've gone, and certainly, certainly, when you've returned. Each trip back to Glen Rock is
. I need so much more than it can offer yet I wouldn't be where I am without it.
I endure not yet a breach, but an expansion
It's essential to leave, but important to return.
I'm not who I was four years ago, but I am the result.
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
My phone buzzed and I saw the first text;
There has been a shooting at MIT.
Seconds later, a dozen police cars sped down the Mass Pike. I ran home, then later, upstairs. Helicopters flew over Watertown, you could see them perfectly from twenty six. Everyone stood in silence, watching the beam of light provide guidance to officers on the ground. In the background, the police scanner ran on an anonymous laptop, providing constant updates, but just causing more questions. Anonymous bodies stood in the dark. Some held hands, but most stood alone, waiting for it to end.
Kenmore is not just a square in Boston, Kenmore is my hill. Kenmore Place is the steepest street in Glen Rock. Late at night, I stand at the bottom and get a rush of adrenaline in anticipation. It's my challenge. After years of running it, I've timed it perfectly. The first beats hit my ears as my feet hit the pavement, both increasing in intensity as the ground gets steeper and my breath gets deeper. I feel the pain in my calves sharpen about two thirds of the way up until, I reach the top, speed up, and keep going.
The bottom of New York is lonely. Businessmen bump into you without a care as they strut by artists on the street who are cooler than you'll ever be. There might be others full of "Did I seriously spill coffee on myself before I even get there?", but nobody would admit that. The subway is stuffy and your makeup might have worn off or maybe not and you don't know where you're going to get lunch or when lunch even is. But, through all this, the skyscrapers are still standing. Looking up, maybe, just maybe, you'll reach the sky too.
“I’m going to move to Australia.” Kelly declared. I froze. Australia was like… really far.
“What? Why? What’s wrong with here?” Would she really do that?
“Nobody hates Australia. Think about it. On the news, do they ever talk about Australia? No.” Ten year olds are well read on world politics.
“I like America. But I guess Australia is neat too...”
“Plus they’ve got kangaroos and koalas and it’s just all around awesome. As soon as I turn 18, I’m going to move there. You can visit whenever you want though.”
Boston is my city of possibility. It rests in a region of beginnings. The Pilgrims landed on a rock, while I came from a
rock. Like them, I didn’t mean to end up here. And, like them, I began my new life upon arriving. Choices, freedom, and possibility -
a fairer house than prose
. I found myself [made myself], found a path [made a path]. As the plane rises high above the city, I look down on my home, knowing it’s the last view I’ll have for a while. And it’s hard.
When it hits 4:45, I give up on trying to sleep. Might as well make the most of the morning. I creep out of bed careful not to wake anyone else, slowly put on my sneakers and tiptoe out of the house. My first steps are rough but Mirror Lake shines ahead of me. As I speed up my breaths get a little deeper and the cold air stings in my throat. The five mile path curves through woods before coming full circle at Lake Placid’s downtown. The town is starting to wake up as I run through.
I'm standing under the biggest sky I've ever seen, waist deep in the vastest ocean in the entire world. The universe, perhaps. There is no horizon, the water blends into the star filled sky. Every steps takes me deeper until the balmy water reaches my ears. It is completely still, the water rolling gently onto the sand. The shore glows white under moon. Behind it, the skyscrapers of South Beach create a hazy glow. Everything is so big and so perfect and so unified. Floating in the middle of the biggest ocean underneath the biggest sky, I am very small.
I walk back to down town Lake Placid after showering. It’s still early, several shops are just beginning to open and a couple of people roam the roads. Book in hand, I wander. Down a little ally I spot a coffee shop. At first it looks like just a counter, but in the back stools overlook the lake. Mirror Lake couldn’t be a more fitting name; it's the perfect image of the sky. I’m tired from the lack of sleep and solid run, but the maple coffee in hand and crisp morning air have me at peace.
Semper ad meliora.
Latin for "always toward better things." I’m trying my hardest to believe this is true. It’s a hard trade off between things that could be amazing and the life you already have with people you already love. Why would you give that up and risk losing it all?
But yet, the only thing worse than leaving is never leaving. Never taking a chance. What you already have and who you already love will still be there, or so I've learned thus far.
Vires acquirit eundo
. And so I shall.
"Sorry Michelle... the table's just kind of full but maybe you can just get here sooner tomorrow." Jackie's fake sympathy just made her words even crueler. I watched Michelle walk away, speechless.
"Did you really just make her leave?" They stared at me, shocked that I would dare say something confrontational.
"Well, you know...it's just crowded so..."
I got up and walked across the crowded Glen Rock Middle School cafeteria. I found Michelle and joined her at the empty table. She didn't say a word but smiled. One by one, half the old table joined us.
I'm surrounded by lights, sparkling lights. The hotel lounge is surrounded by palm trees that outline the glowing pool. Around us, people mingle. Girls in pretty dresses and guys in some designer I don't care about recline in the lounge chairs near the bar. I'm sipping something fruity and probably expensive. Next to me, he drinks something stronger, reclining like he's in heaven. It's amazing and beautiful and all too much. I love the moon above me more than any of the decorations, tacky without the alcohol veil. It's "perfect" but I still stop and wonder what I'm doing here.
There's only one rule as we drive down the shore. The moment we hit the beach towns, one song plays. I turn to Sarah in my passenger seat and she knows the deal. The windows roll down. It doesn't matter what season it is, winter is no exception. The salty air hits and you can feel the ocean in the breeze. Bruce Springsteen's
Born to Run
starts blasting through the speakers. It's played every time I've driven down the shore with my family and now, with my friends.
Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
Jenny's giggling. Jenny's giggling a lot. I look from her face to her glass and realize she's a couple of mojitos in. It's definitely not my little sister's first time getting a bit tipsy, but probably the first time in front of my parents. I stand up, "Excuse me, I''ll be right back." I eye her and she rises. "Me too."
We walk across the breezy, beachfront, Bermuda restaurant. We step into the bathroom and I just look at her, smirking. "Lovely dinner isn't it, Jen?"
She cracks up. "I know, I know, everything is just so funny!"
Walking up to the baby grand piano, I'm shaking just a little. It doesn't matter that I've done this a dozen times before. I turn in my heels to face the audience (it's small but still...)
"The piece I will perform is Chopin's waltz in A minor." The audience doesn't care though, it's just a classical song to them.
Once I start playing, it's easy. I don't have to look at them or face them and honestly, if I mess up, they won't even realize. My fingers sweep across the black and white keys as the music flows.
It's funny how waking up at home has become unfamiliar. In Glen Rock, everything feels lazy. My room is bigger, filled with useless trinkets from childhood and bags of everything I haven't unpacked. I'm surrounded by my books and the purple walls I've missed. I've slept hours later than I ever would have at school. From downstairs, the smell of breakfast is the only motivation I have to get up. Instead of the city skyline, my window shows my snow covered yard. But the best part is the giant polar bear of a dog taking up most of the bed.
The rocks are rough beneath my feet and the wind blows back my hair. Jenny climbs a step ahead of me, leading me on. We're climbing a tower of rocks and I feel eight years old instead of twenty. The ocean is a seafoam green and you can see the fish swimming forty feet below us. We reach the top, we're on top of the world.
Jenny looks to me; "Wanna freak out mom?"
In tandem, "Hey mom!" She turns and lets out a gasp as we hold hands, take a leap and jump.
As mass comes to a close, it's dark except for the lights of the massive Christmas trees in front of the church. Everyone is still as a soloist begins
softly in front.
I often question those first five letters of
. If I'm being completely honest, it means nothing to me at all. But looking around the small Nutley, NJ church, it's clear that the sense of community unquestionable. If everyone has joined in peace and celebration, I'm glad to be a part of it.
All is calm, all is bright.
The Hunter Mountain wilderness surrounds my cousins' house's porch. The steam rises out of the hot tub as we relax after a long day of skiing, snowboarding, and falling.
"Guys! Let's jump in the snow!" Cara jokes.
"Don't be stupid, Cara," Ashley half jokes.
"No, actually, let's do it," Jenny's pretty serious.
The three of them look at me and I shrug. I step out on to the frozen deck. Holy shit it's cold. The look at me, not believing I'll do it. So I step off the porch. Seconds later, we're all in the snow.
By the time I drive across the causeway, the windows are already down. You can smell the ocean in the air as the breeze hits your face. On my left, the bright turquoise and coral of Ron Jon Surf Shop stand as a monument to the surf culture of Long Beach Island. Turning on to the boulevard, I pass the stores and restaurants that have been here much longer than I have. Pinky's Shrimp, the toy store that doesn't have a name, and the ferris wheel of Fantasy Island. All the signs that I'm back and summer is really here.
Piermont is a town built on a natural pier. A quaint little town along the Hudson. A quaint little town that doesn't have much to offer besides some cute but old houses, a couple cafes, and a movie theatre. Except, of course, the river. The river is what draws us here, the reason we drive forty minutes on any given night. From the end of the pier, you can see the lights of Manhattan sparkling in the distant south. North of us, the darkness of progressively rural areas. In the middle of the river, you stand between the two worlds.
It gets cold early in Boston, I'm starting to learn that. The breeze at the Public Gardens is enough to make me hold my coffee tight. This is the first time I've been off campus alone since I've moved here. It's nice, to be alone for a little.
Leaning back against the tree, I'm engrossed in my book. Ducks float past in the water and people are all around me, but I don't care. The first few weeks have been rough, but here, I feel at peace. Maybe I can make this city my home.
The walk to Danielle's house hasn't changed in over a decade. I could easily be the fourth grade version of myself, relishing in the fact that I was finally allowed to walk there alone. I guess a couple houses on Iona Place have changed colors over the years. The Brady's bought a new swing set. I know Kilroy's got a new sign at some point in high school. But I'm still walking down the same street and cutting through the same supermarket parking lot to visit my best and oldest friend. Of everything that's changed, at least that's remained constant.
I used to play the Sky game. Every day, I'd look at the shapes of the clouds, the specific hue of blue above me. And every day, I'd determine where that day's sky looked like. Sometimes the giant puff balls against powder blue meant a Montana prairie sky. Wispy, smokey, clouds against periwinkle were top-of-an-Antarctic-mountain sky. Always places I'd never been, paired with skies I could only dream.
I still look at the sky, but now, I imagine what it's going to look like when I get there and stand under the real thing.
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