The city was spread before her, a magnificent carpet of lush trees and opulent buildings. Cars the size of ants scurried along the roads, which wound their way through the city like a tangle of rope. Taking a deep breath, she felt as though she could draw the air from the entire city. Though the people below were undoubtedly rushing, the view gave her a sense of unhurried peace. She felt as though she could sit by the window forever, casting light and warmth on the city below as though she were the sun.
All good things must come to an end, and as the elevator brought Isabel back to earth, her worries returned: plummeting grades, no friends, her father’s job, her parents dying, moving away from the city she loved. Most of her concerns were far from real, but she couldn’t help herself. As her breathing quickened, Evangeline’s voice cut through, and Isabel could almost see her standing in the elevator with Isabel. “Anxiety overload mode, here, we’ve got a problem.” Isabel’s older sister made everything lighter and less concerning. What will I do when she goes to college? she wondered, adding another worry to her list. A sharp chime broke her concentration, and she stepped out of the elevator.
When she stepped outside, she noticed that the worms were still out on the pavement, resting after last night’s thunderstorm. She carefully placed one in the dirt beside the sidewalk and watched it burrow through the ground. She was a master of the worm’s underground lair, and could diagram it with her eyes shut. The end of the worm disappeared into the soil and Isabel moved away, starting the five-block journey that would take her to her apartment. As she walked, she pressed her toes against the soles of her sneakers, trying to feel the ground under her shoes. She was obsessed with the underground, the fact that there was a whole other layer to the city she inhabited. She could draw the sewer system and subway routes of New York by memory. It was her duty to know about what stood beneath her city.
Once through the door to her family’s ground-level apartment, Isabel was sheltered by the familiar smell of chocolate chip cookies, though she did not know if anyone was baking them. To her the house smelled like her favorite treat every day. Heading through the living room she saw her mother sitting at the kitchen table paying bills. Her father was still at work. Isabel breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t been fired today. Her mother looked up. “How was camp?” she asked.
Isabel took a seat across from her. “Good.’
“What did you do?”
“We worked on perspective. I went all the way up to the 50th floor!”
Her mother surveyed her over the bills she was working through. “How’d you like it?” she asked. Isabel’s anxiety prevented her from doing much, and she had never wanted to risk an anxiety attack so far from the rest of the world.
Isabel launched into an excited description of everything that she saw. Her mother’s face lit up a little as she spoke. It was hard to find an experience that Isabel was okay with. It wasn’t her fault, of course. Her anxiety disorder ruled her life. Isabel wandered off to her room to clean something, but her thoughts strayed to the tower. She tried to focus on the uncomplicated bliss of that perspective, but her worries crowded in, pressing on all parts of her mind. There was only one thing for it: she would have to go back.
Isabel woke up early Saturday morning, dressing in a hurry and slipping out into the busy New York morning. Skyscrapers arched up to the clouds, barrelling upward into the blue morning air. A twinge of fear prickled in her mind, reminding her that she shouldn’t be out without permission. Instantly thousands of horrible scenes flashed through her mind, one by one as though they had been waiting for an invitation. Isabel walked briskly to the tower, not looking back for fear that she was being followed. To her immense relief, she entered the lobby unscathed. A stomach-dropping elevator ride later, she was sitting in a window seat, looking out over the magnificent cityscape. Pulling a piece of paper and a pen from her bag, she wrote, In real life, I am grounded. I cannot stop thinking about where I am and what is around me. Here, I am free. I am a hero, larger than life and just as mysterious. I do not need to worry about what will happen and what I must accomplish. Grades do not matter here, for what hero needs good marks? I can think about something other than danger. There is nothing closing in on me, nothing towering over me, and nothing below me. When I am up here, I am suspended between dream and reality, sky and earth, life and death. This is not the real world. This is too perfect to belong with the tragedy and crime and unhappiness of reality. This is significance and control and everything else I lack on the ground. This is happiness.
Feeling pleased with her work, she signed it and folded it, sticking it into her pocket. Of course she would visit the window seat as often as possible, but if she couldn’t, she had captured the feeling. She was grounded no more.
The high vaulted ceilings arched over Caroline’s head, connecting so perfectly in a complex pattern she could only call art. The cool air whispered across her skin, hinting at impossibly vast questions that she could almost answer, if only she tried a bit more. Here was the power Caroline had been missing, the confidence and control she had sought after for almost all her life. So much of her life gave her no choices: her parents, recovering in a hospital after the accident; her brother, living with her grandparents while she stayed with friends. But here, she knew, she could escape the confusion. Here she could handle anything that came her way. There was no place better than here, there was no time better than now.