Cold Lightning Rods
Emily Thomason | On 05, May 2017
The first time I ever saw him, I was filled with the bittersweet taste of freedom and excitement: I was finally in the city where I belonged, a metropolis filled with strange smells and even stranger folk. My tiny apartment in Midtown Manhattan was a small price to pay for the exhilarating energy of the city, and this place has a way about it, a certain mix of light, color, and sound that cannot be matched. Its silhouette looms menacingly at dusk to those who fear the magnitude of its boundless embrace on the cosmos. When the skies finally turn that familiar shade of salmon, Lady Freedom stretches her torch high above her head in a tribute to the receding sun. Only a few minutes and a blanket of darkness would conceal her noble salute. And as I learned, New York City veiled in a silky sheen of night is a completely different city. When the moon comes out, the air itself reverberates with the possibility of what might be. The city glows with luminescent thrill, and one can only compare the sight of it to a black canvas swirled with flecks of gold and all that glitters, painted by a single, unwavering hand. Manhattan wears a costume of la douleur exquise, though it is proven cruel and hard upon closer inspection.
He holds similarities to the city in that way, the sole embodiment of such a place, littered with troubles you would never notice unless, of course, you were fully immersed within it. Regardless, it was my first time in the Empire City as an official resident. My eyes crept to the 50th story of every skyscraper on that first New York morning. It felt as if the stars themselves had descended from the gloomy heavens to riot against the twists of cold, sleek metal. After a glorious year of endless, electric nights and dazed early morning coffee runs together, it all came crashing down around me. I still remember that day so clearly.
The sky was stormy, and his eyes reflected the feverish mood of the clouds above. His eyebrows were drawn together, deep in thought while my heart raced in anticipation of what would come next, what hurricane his words would draw forth. He looked exhaustedly into a puddle on the ground, and that’s when I noticed the bags under his eyes and realized the significance of this particular moment. “You are merely what could have been,” he breathed. He turned away from me then and ran his hands through his mass of thick hair, a blonde curl breaking free and falling gently against his forehead. My vision went foggy until I could no longer tell what was him and what was the gray wall of unrelenting rain.
The time we spent together flashed before my eyes: the day we first met in the 24-hour diner right off 6th Avenue, that first quiet walk back to my apartment, too many midnights watching the cars fly by five stories below us, the day we both learned that we came here from somewhere else hoping for a new start, and the day we found out that we had gotten one. There were moments that tasted of terrible chinese takeout, and ones that tasted of home, but never was there a moment tinged with the sour flavor of regret. Time was filled soaking up moonlight in central park, strolling through the flower district on Sunday afternoons, and splurging on impulse taxi rides to Brooklyn. Sometimes satisfaction could be found in the comfort of a cozy apartment and we would spend all day talking about constellations and the origin of everything and our favorite types of tea. Everything just clicked, and not in some cheap New York movie kind of way, but in the real-world, mundane kind of way. It was an undeniable sort of companionship, far more than any relationship, purely the mutual acceptance of all flaws. Platonic soulmates, just as ironic as the promise of ‘always.’ He was equally there for the good days as the bad days, the days I thought I could break into laughter at any moment, and the days I thought I could simply break. These memories, these wonderfully tainted memories, spiraled through my mind in one moment, and were unambiguously gone in the next.
After so much energy and so much chaos I came to the single most important realization of my life: in a simplistic sort of way, he was the city in itself, with all its beautifully ragged edges and cruel, cutting exteriors. Both had made promises they could not keep, though neither had been capable of disappointing me. One particular likeness remains especially prominent in my mind. In the time I had grown to love both, neither boy nor city had ever stopped reaching for what mysteries may have been hiding in the foaming seethe of clouds, just overhead, just out of reach of warm fingertips and cold lightning rods. They alike would never cease to reach for something unbeknownst to us, something that may shine and glow or something that may lurk wickedly, just beyond the milky swirl of storms.