THE ROOF CONTINUED
Now twelve years old, Lan and I use the roof to plot our escape from being home.
One cold winter night in January, bored and restless, I tell my father I’m going to Lan’s and Lan tells his mother that he’s coming to my apartment. Lan lives on the sixth floor, the last floor before the roof. I live on the third floor.
I call Lan before I head up to the roof.
“I’m going to Lan’s,” I say as I rush out of the apartment, impressed at how smart our plan is.
Now on the roof, I shout out to the wind, hoping my voice will reach Lan’s window one floor below.
“Lan, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” he answers. We can’t see each other.
“I’m ready,” I say.
Now, leaning over the thin wire fence that bounds the roof, I reach out to grab the winter jackets that Lan is flinging up to me. The key is to snatch them as he throws them upward. As I lean over, my hands searching the night air, it doesn’t occur to me that I might fall off the roof. I’m sure it doesn’t occur to Lan either.
“I got it,” I say as I get a hold of Lan’s jacket. Now it’s time for my coat.
Both coats in hand now, Lan leaves his apartment, and we meet on the sixth-floor stairwell.
Before we head out to take a walk, Lan suggests going back on the roof to smoke a cigarette.
Now on the roof, we look across to the Manhattan skyline. The buildings sparkle like burning diamonds.
“People would pay big money to get this view of the city,” says Lan, taking a drag on a cigarette.
“We’re just lucky,” I say. It doesn’t occur to us that we live in a project tenement. That really everyone who lives here would rather live somewhere else.
But the view is undeniable. It is like being atop Mount Olympus. And even though this is a project tenement, the Manhattan skyline suggests infinite possibilities. It’s all happening over there, across the East River. In more ways than one, that world, the world of Manhattan, is far away from us. But the pretty bejeweled buildings stand majestically before us. As if they are there for us. For us only. Despite the filth in our building, the pee on the floor (which is sometimes my pee), the graffiti on the walls (which is sometimes my graffiti), and the sour stench from the Department of Sanitation depot across the street, we’re granted a glimpse into paradise just looking at the skyline. Especially on a cold night like this. The air is fresh on my face. The heat from the cigarette feels good. I take another long drag and sweep my head from left to right, as if scooping up the view. Starting on the far left is the Brooklyn Bridge, next is the Twin Towers. Then going north, I stop at the Empire State Building, then the Chrysler Building. I keep moving north to the Citibank Building on 54th Street. Just east of the Citibank Building is The Queensborough Bridge, which connects Manhattan to Queens. Moving further north, I see the Tri-borough Bridge, which connects Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx.
I now sweep my head from right to left, as if to store these images in my brain forever.