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Jeffrey Schrader

It was after I finally got caught when it happened. I was thrown out of high school because I caused way too many problems. This was simply the final straw; I was passing out pamphlets on the decriminalization of marijuana, and apparently the principal doesn't have the same ideals as I. Normally, my parents were cool with whatever happened, they figured I was just searching for my identity and needed to try new things. But they also figured that I needed an education, so they shipped me off to Manhattan to live with my aunt in her ritzy upper west-side apartment.

It rained a lot there. I don't know why, but every time I'd ever visited her, or whenever I saw a view of New York City, the sun always seemed to be shining. But as soon as I set my bags on the floor of my new room, veils of gray shrouded the once-bright sun.

My room sucked. The whole apartment did. First, there was the living room. That was the first room you walked into from the hallway, if my aunt would unlock the three deadbolts on the door and let you in. It was fairly spacious as far as rooms in Manhattan go, but it was boring. There was a leather couch, two armchairs, an old record player, three potted plants, and a poster of Neil Diamond. I stayed out of that room as much as I could. There was a small bar, and on the other side of that was the kitchen and dining area. It was your basic kitchen so there's no real need for me to get into descriptive details here, however, it was immaculately clean. I was forbidden from stepping foot in there. If I needed anything, or wanted anything, I had to ask my aunt. If she thought it was okay for me to have my request granted, she'd go in the kitchen and bring me back whatever food I wanted. The worst thing about the food was that she has remained kosher, while I have never followed those laws. So all of a sudden I was "practicing my beliefs" again. Down the hall was the bathroom. There's nothing special going on there. And then there were two bedrooms. She wouldn't even allow me to see what hers looked like, so I can't explain it to you. But, back to the point of this individual tirade: my room sucked. It was the horrible epitome of minimalism. I had a white bed, a single white lamp (from Ikea), a small closet with enough room for two pairs of pants and five shirts, and a little bedside table. In the wall facing Central Park there was a decent sized window that opened up into a tiny balcony with enough room for one or two people. The window was big enough to let light in, but like I already stated; rain clouds had conquered the sun. Plus, in addition to my general misery, my aunt had told me that the window was never to be opened. She said it was to remain closed at all times, no matter what. Most of the time I just sat in my room, huddled on my bed enveloped by fake fluorescent Ikea lighting, and read a book.

I became an insomniac. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't sleep. Every night I would lay in my little cell and count sheep, hum songs, I even tried praying once or twice, but no matter what, I always remained awake. I did an amazing amount of reading, but I probably would have traded all that for one night's rest. It also gave me time to study. I wasn't going to a regular school. At first, my aunt considered sending me to a Hebrew Academy, but she figured out that I wasn't nearly as orthodox as she, so she settled for that home-schooling garbage. She ordered a bunch of workbooks, and when I completed them she'd sent them to some lab up in Scarsdale NY for the results. I think I was their top student. I think I was their only student. Oh well, it was the only time my aunt would really talk to me, and I was desperately craving some human companionship. Nobody wants to be alone. Even though all we talked about were the lessons, it was the only time she would speak to me other than when reminding me to keep my window closed. I missed communication.

About a month into my adventure as a resident of Manhattan I met the kid who lived a few apartments down. He was a cool cat. He introduced himself to me as "Slick Johnny Denim." All I could do was try not to laugh, and I said "That's a bit too rock & roll for me, is it cool if I just call you John?" He said yeah, so I guess we became friends. I wasn't allowed to leave my aunt's place too much, but since John was a year or two older than me and was a student at the Hebrew Academy, she let me go when I told her that he was tutoring me and helping me study. In all reality we were just sitting on his balcony smoking cigarettes, drinking his old man's beer, and talking about philosophy and psychology. He quoted some James Marcia character and told me that I was living in a stage known as "Identity Diffusion," that I was angry, actively avoiding commitment, and apathetic about everything, especially commitment. I told him I was committed to throwing him off the balcony if he didn't shut up. The whole ordeal was strange, I mean, I hated John, but I hated having no one to talk to even more.

I still wasn't sleeping, and it was obvious. My eyes were vacant, translucent, and encircled by black rings. I didn't really walk; it looked like I floated by, feet barely dancing along the floor when I made any slight movement. I spoke slowly and monotonously, and sometimes my mouth gaped open as if I had no control over my facial muscles. I had a slight twitch. Every now and then it would feel as though I were being shocked and I would jerk an arm, or a leg, or my head, suddenly and almost violently. But I wasn't tired, and I couldn't sleep anyway.

Finally, I couldn't stand being locked up anymore. I was allowed to hang out with John once a week, but that was it. Other than that I was to remain in the room at all times, windows closed. I started crying and asking my aunt why she wouldn't let me go outside. For a second she almost looked like she cared, but then her normal complacent face reappeared. She said that someone had been pick pocketing all around the apartment complex. Well, I didn't have any money so it didn't really matter if someone picked my pocket or not. And a revelation hit me as soon as I heard that. Somehow I knew that ol' Slick Johnny Denim was behind this little scam. I decided that I would finally earn my aunt's approval.

The next day I told John that we should hang out somewhere else, somewhere other than his balcony. I said I needed to get my hands on some money, and asked if he knew how I could make a little cash. He smiled and told me to follow him. When we got in the elevator I was nervous. My hands were shaking, I was sweating uncontrollably, and my knees felt like they were going to give way at any second. Two floors down the elevator stopped and an older man stepped on. As soon as the doors closed John looked at me, then snuck forward and quickly, almost effortlessly, removed the man's wallet from his pants. As soon as it happened I hit the emergency stop button and the alarm button. John looked shocked, but not nearly as shocked as the old man. Of course, John punched me, gave me a black eye. But when the police finally came, I got to laugh. A policeman escorted me back to my apartment. He told my aunt what happened, and for the first time since I met the woman, she smiled. When the policeman left she told me that I deserved a reward, and asked me what I would like. I asked her if I could open my window that night.

The next morning I awoke refreshed and reborn. I felt wonderful, and for the first time in a long time, I felt happy. This entire time I could not sleep because I only wanted to awaken to the sound of raindrops. The weeping of the clouds that pours down and washes away the dirtier side of life, leaving a sparkling newborn world. The dirt and the evil soaked and drained into the ocean, the city can arise again with a smile, and embrace itself in a way known only to a select few. Finally, I was one of those few.

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