By Emme Oliver

The frenzy of the early night haze is over. When you’re sitting content in the park, tasting the red in your lungs. It’s a feeling that I want to stop but never will. The burn in my chest isn’t comparable to the burn in my head, tasting the new atmosphere I’ve surrounded myself in. An atmosphere of distant screams, disheveled onlookers, and sights that I thought only belonged in movies. It’s a bittersweet mix that only special kinds of souls get used to. 

Sooner or later, I’m on the subway. A dangerous place to be if you’re a young adult woman with ripped jeans and money in her pocket. There’s a black haired boy across the tight space with the newest sets of beats over his head. I wonder if they’re playing the typical rap tunes I hear in speeding cars or something more introspective. Something that keeps your existence bound to the seat you’re sitting in while you float away in the polluted air around you. He taps gently on the side rail to whatever is caressing his ears and I too get lost in a sound I’m not hearing. 

The men scream like the thunders of war possess them. Spitting chewed up tobacco, throwing cigarette smoke across the sidewalk to one another. I dip my head down and past quickly hoping their glances stay fixated on each other. The verbal attack takes me back to the hallways I’ll never walk down again. The hallways that were so quiet last year. 

She whispers to me over clouds of vaporized chemicals 

“Do you like it up here?”

And I have to wonder because of the majesties and tragedies I witness every day. Not many places can you spot artwork lining buildings bigger than your childhood hopes and in the same area see a half dead man say he wants your body. After walking on blistering feet all day, you get home to your apartment smaller than a chaise lounge where you can smell the sex on the shower walls. You cook pasta, maybe just a piece of bread with peanut butter on it. It’s never nicer than the meals made by your parents after a tiresome Wednesday. Everything stings so solemnly, but so invigorating too. Your soul swells up. You witness kept secrets on every sidewalk. Music pouring from random corners of the streets. So surreal and so benevolent. And just around the other bend of the parallel sidewalk, is a catastrophe waiting. You are prey in the city. You are power in the city. Your body is interlaced with the concrete you walk on every day. 

“I think I like it as much as I can” I deliver that statement with a smile baked half in disillusionment and the other half in hope. 

When I’m sitting across from you, the space separating us grows thinner and thinner, the lights swell up around us. It’s beautiful, intoxicating and dangerous. We’re surrounded by interruptions, captured in the arms of distraction but my ears are only susceptible to the sound of your voice. You’re telling me stories from a town I’ll never know and people that I wish I did. Your hand will brush against mine when we each reach for the door, leading out into a bustling intersection and I feel like I’m in a movie. 

The buildings grow taller and the forests lessen. I feel devoured by their presence, contrasting with the minuscule spots of nature I go to to escape the day’s misfortunes and lament about getting lost in the stories of passersby. I wonder about their lives, where they go when the existentialism kicks in. Where will we all go when we’re drowned by the inevitable waters? I ask my roommate, and environmental studies major with a pretty face and lots of opinions,

“I think that dying is another part of living, for all things on earth, that goes for cities, too.”

I take her words down with the hazelnut coffee swirling in my early morning mouth. She braids her hair in my cheap plastic mirror made from the same materials we wish didn’t have to end up in landfills. My eyes are still underlined with last night’s makeup and faded memories sift in and out of my conscious thought. My roommate picks up her reusable thermos and ventures out into the concrete jungle as my broken backboned father says. 

Living and dying in the city that never sleeps. Your eyelids crust over with eternal sleep and your body feeds the artificial earth, Birkenstock sandals and bare blistered feet walk over you, everywhere your essence is spread out. You live in the cigarette smoke, you watch the occupied apartments switch owners throughout the years. You are overcome by the rivers that will soon ravish the streets and you find yourself floating. Floating in a capsule that’s inhabited by every story witnessed. Every story congealed after a burning unprecedented yet familiar moment. Every story that’s been taken for granted simply because it is seen everyday. Every aspect of a life that is laid out in front of you and can be taken at any minute.

Emme Oliver is a 20-year-old writer from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She is currently residing in New York City attending Eugene Lang Liberal Arts College at The New School to pursue her writing dreams. She edits for award-winning journalist Debra Wallace and writes for

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