Art and Subway Stations

11 Sep

By Thalia Medrano
7th Grade

I enjoy the quiet. I love the privacy that only a large city can offer. Not many people understand that, but I have never found more truth in anything. In a place where there are so many people no one would ever notice me, not unless they were looking.

My mother always insisted I carry a compass on a leather thong around my neck. It was supposed to be a metaphor or some form of inspiration; carry a compass and you’ll never lose your way. If she wanted to be practical and keep me from getting lost, she should’ve given me a subway map, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost that way. But I’m so grateful she didn’t because I love being lost.

It was, in fact, a simple train mix-up that brought me here the first time. I was rarely ever in Manhattan, as my family lives in an apartment complex in West Bronx. It was only two years ago that they started allowing me to ride the subways on my own, and thanks to my flawed sense of direction, I ended up on the southern tip after visiting a friend on the Lower East Side. It didn’t take me long to realize I had gotten on the wrong train, and I immediately got off when I did. In my frustration, I stormed away from the platform and found myself wandering into Battery Park.

I made sure to remember that stop, and jotted down the route and directions in the back pages of my notebook so I could always find my way back there, because it was a perfect little hideaway from the world.

Even on the quiet park bench tucked away in the southern edge of the park facing the water, the low drones of buses, the screeching and groaning of rubber on asphalt and the high-pitched squeal of brakes rang through the weaving streets of the city around. It was a wonderful white noise, keeping me from wandering too far into my head. It kept me halfway grounded in this reality like a tether around my ankle preventing me from drifting into space and being lost from this world. That was, of course, the burden of an artist. Our imaginations stay so constantly active it’s not difficult to get lost in our heads.

I opened my faded green messenger bag that contained my much-loved leather-bound sketchbook and fished for a pen at the floor of the fabric. Flipping through the pages, I added a few touch-ups before turning to a blank slate.

No one in my family seemed to understand my artistic side. They didn’t think much of creativity, and were, for the most part, very business-oriented. My parents were both accountants, my older brother a renowned doctor, and my five-year-old sister wanted to be a jockey but they would surely whip that out of her before she reached first grade. Their way of life was to suppress your feelings and let them out slowly in calm, healthy ways, like cooking or weekend spin classes. Apparently, art did not fall under that category, and neither did dying your hair sea-foam green in the bathroom while your parents were away for a function. They didn’t react well to that when they came back home.

I found myself drawing the world around me, trying in vain to capture the contrast and the way the mid-afternoon sunlight filled the world, but I felt I didn’t do it justice.

A red-haired woman wrapped in a grey wool poncho and dark skinny jeans sat down next to me. I grew a little uncomfortable, as I wasn’t a people person, but I was flattered at the way she was staring at my drawing.

“That’s really good,” she commented in a rolling, melodic tone, gesturing toward my sketchbook with the back of her hand. You have some amazing talent. Mind if I see that?” she asked, holding her hand out for my notebook.

“Oh, uh, sure,” I muttered, and handed it over.

She ran her fingers over the drawing, then began flipping through the pages, discovering a portrait I had drawn earlier in the week. After gazing at it for several moments, she turned back to me. “I’m a teacher at the High School for Art and Design here in New York. Have you ever considered going to school for art?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No. My parents want me to become a lawyer. They say I’m good at arguing,” I tell her, and she chuckles.

“Why does something tell me you don’t really want that?” she said, cocking her head to the side.

I said nothing.

“Well, tell you what, you take it up with them, because you would be a wonderful artist, okay?” she said.

I smiled and nodded.

She dug something from her purse and handed it to me along with the sketchbook. “Here’s my card. And you said you were good at arguing so you better convince them. Sound good?” the woman encouraged.

I grinned. “Sounds good.”

She got up and walked away, and the second she was out of sight I bolted for the nearest subway station. Here it was, this was my chance. Here in front of me was a real shot at a career as…as an artist! This was what I wanted, more than anything, to make a living out of something this fantastic. I just had to get my family to agree.

I checked over the subway map three times before boarding a train, determined not to get lost this time. I was too excited, too ecstatic. It was a long trip back to the Bronx without getting lost or turned around, and I couldn’t wait to tell them that now I had such a great opportunity in front of me. The would be so proud.

*****

I ran up the concrete staircase, rushing past the people that were going so slowly and skipping every other step on the way up. I sped past the scattered people on the sidewalk, trying my best not to flat-out sprint, but I really wanted to. Walking painfully slow, keeping time with all the pedestrians around me. When I did finally reach the front door of my apartment complex, I sprinted up the staircases inside.
Upon arriving at the third landing, I sped past a few neighbors carrying grocery bags, and from the corner of my eye I saw them shoot me some very dirty looks after I almost ran into them. As I approached the end of the hallway, I slowed my pace, leaning against the wall for a second to catch my breath as I dug a house-key from my pocket.

The door unlocked with the satisfying click it always did, and I skipped inside. My mother sat at the coffee table, wearing an old t-shirt and drawstring sweatpants like she usually put on after work, but was sitting very upright for such casual attire, again, like usual.

“Hey, Mom,” I said, and my grin was spreading over my face despite my best efforts to contain it.

“Hi, honey. What are you doing back so early?” she asked.

“I’ve got some good news,” I said. “I met a woman at the park today, and she said I had real potential as an artist and it turns out she’s a teacher at an art high school. She thinks I should apply to get in!” I was now completely unable to contain the excitement in my voice, but my mom stared back at me with no excitement on her face at all.

“You want to go to school to be an artist?” she asked, incredulous.

“Well, yeah.” My voice was meek now.

“So, we’re giving you wonderful opportunities and educating you to have a nice, well paying job, and you want to throw all that away for a hobby?” she asked angrily.

“Mom, I have been presented with an opportunity to do something fantastic, and clearly at this point it’s more than a hobby!” I said, beginning to raise my voice in aggravation. “I draw every day, whenever I get the chance, and I wanted to be an artist when I was younger, but you said I couldn’t and now I can—”

“You can’t make a decent living as an artist!” she yelled.

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, okay? Just because you can spend your life behind a desk sipping coffee and filing paperwork like some kind of drone doesn’t mean I can!” I retaliated.

My mother was in shock for a second. Her mouth hung open, and it slowly shifted into a bitter sneer.

“What did you call me?” she snarled.

“A drone,” I spat back.

“Go to your room!” she shrieked.

“No,” I said, arching an eyebrow.

“Now!” she hissed through clenched teeth.

“No.”

She grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward the door to my room on the left.

“Mom, let go of me!” I shouted, but she ignored everything I said. “Let go!” I cried, digging my fingernails into the skin of her forearm until she released me.

“What’s gotten into you?” she yelled, rubbing her arm.

“Me? There’s nothing wrong with me. I just want to have a shot at doing what I love, and you can’t accept it. You just think I’m crazy!”

“It is crazy!” she insisted. “And is it so bad for me to want a stable life for my child?”

“Well, what if I don’t want a life like that, huh? What if I like the ups and downs and the risk of it all. I don’t want that kind of life!” I yelled.

“Well, it’s what I want for you,” she said quietly.

“Since when do you have any say in what I do with my life?” I retorted.

“I’m your mother,” she said, looking hurt.

“Yes, you are. So why can’t you just accept me and let me try to make it on my own? Is that too much to ask?” I said, grabbing my bag off the counter and walking back to the front door, slamming it behind me as she began to say something I couldn’t hear.

*****

I stared out at the water, slumped on my usual bench in my usual park with my usual pen and notebook in hand. But I was too preoccupied to draw. How did everything go down that quickly? I thought my parents would be proud of me, but I guess they just wanted me to be like them. Remembering something, I dug the business card from my back pocket.

Allison Summers
Teacher
High School for Art and Design
(555)683-5882

She had given me a chance to be what I really wanted, but I would never see her again because I apparently wasn’t that good at arguing. I hadn’t convinced them like she told me to. I looked out over the smooth surface of the water. The sun was beginning to fall toward the horizon, streaks of purple painting what was visible of the sky between the buildings.

I had to go home soon, didn’t want to be stuck outside at night by myself, and as I made my usual journey back to the subway station, I was stopped by the sight of someone I didn’t expect to see here. My parents walking toward me.

“What are you doing here?” I asked them.

My father smiled at me, and my mother looked indifferent. “We talked it over,” he began, “and your mother didn’t think it was a good idea at first, but I think it is, and finally we came to an agreement. We’ll let you go to that school if, and only if, you work very hard and become a huge success. Can you do that?”

My eyes widened. My mouth fell open. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” said my mother without very much emotion in her voice, but she managed a forced smile.

“Yes, yes, of course I’ll work hard. Oh my God, thank you!” I shouted, locked my father into a hug, and although I didn’t want to, I felt obligated to do the same to my mother.

I realized I was still holding Allison Summer’s business card. I dug my phone from my bag and dialed the number printed at the bottom of the paper.

It rang for a few seconds before someone picked up, and a woman’s voice on the other end said, “Hello?”

“Hi, Ms. Summers,” I said cheerily, “I’ve got some good news for you!”

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