When we were 1, 2, 3, our mom would hold our hands all the way up the stairs to the roof because it was closer than the playground. She would sit us down in the middle of the cement so we wouldn’t fall into the busy city streets.
When we were 4, 5, 6, we tugged Dad’s hands as soon as he got home from work, begging an escort up the stairs, and a hand to hold as we peered over the edge. We would smell the roasting chestnuts and hear the shouts of seven languages. We would watch the rushing taxis, and the running umbrellas, and long for the busy city streets.
When we were 7, 8, 9, we danced and whined until we got permission to stand alone, looking down onto the busy city streets, feeling like royalty. We ran in infinite circles until a nervous adult shooed us away from the edges. We sat in the center like we were 1, 2, 3, until our feet itched and our legs tingled and then we ran.
When we were 10, 11, 12, we read books about dragons and kids with treehouses and we wanted our own fort. We scavenged old sofas and built a coffee table out of cardboard boxes. We draped satellite dishes with pretty clothes found under beds. We doodled a secret diary and wrote stories about technicians that stole our decorations and babysitters we were too old for that made us cookies. We had conquered the roof; we had no need for the busy city streets below.
When we were 13, 14, 15, we watched the sky change and traded homework and talked about boys and girls and sports. We laughed about the stupid things we did 1, 2, 3 years ago. The busy city streets roared on, idling cars stuck in traffic sending fumes into space, but we sat in our own atmosphere, untouched.
When we were 16, 17, 18, we didn’t have time for our rooftop world. We had social lives, and relationships, and tests, and college applications. We had to figure out how to get skinny, popular, successful. We learned how to parallel park and merge. We became the busy city streets.
When we were 19, 20, 21, we realized our streets didn’t go quite as far as we’d thought. Like birds learning to fly we left the nest for the West, South, Europe. We packed our bags for other busy city streets.
When we were 22, 23, 24, we lived in lofts or one-room apartments off of ramen and fast food. We surfed the Internet for expensive condos with good views we couldn’t afford. We were interested in progress, in the days where we could do what we wanted and live where we wanted, not in returning to old roofs and flimsy second hand furniture.
Now we are 25, 26, 27, we have started thinking about marriage and kids and our own childhood. We walk back up the stairs occasionally; notice the hairline cracks on the right hand wall. Look out at the busy city streets; envy the expensive cars rushing by. We run fingers over velour brocades and the pages of the secret journal not well hidden. We miss 10, 11, 12, for a few minutes and then we go back to our lives.
Soon we will be 28, 29, 30. The marriages will fade from brilliance into normalcy, maybe all the way to torture. The kids will grow up like we did, 1, 2, 3, then 4, 5, 6. We will juggle briefcases and small hands. The kids will have interests— dinosaurs or pirates maybe. They will turn 7, 8, 9 and they will let go of our hands. We will start to see our parents in our own worry lines. We will learn to miss our rooftop homes and vivid imaginations.
Before we know it we will miss our children’s childhoods and our own 20s, 30s, 40s. We will age into grandparenthood, 50s, 60s, 70s, and we will miss good backs and full nests. We will pull into the busy city streets and wish we could leave them for our rooftops once again.
Ella Lerner is a high school freshman who rarely gets enough sleep because of Netflix, or her teachers, or her need to make up stories about people she’s never met. She’s been previously published by Teen Ink and Stone Soup and recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing. She can be found on Tumblr at abandonedshopofhorrors.tumblr.com or Twitter @ella_raine