If You’re Looking
The dusk of night was approaching when Jade’s cell phone rang. She clicked the “ignore” button and propelled her body onto the swing. She had come here for solace. This park was her place. Worn-down and rusted and forgotten. Just the way she liked it.
About a half a mile away from her parent's house, this particular playground existed in the corner of a once-upon-a-time forest and a halfway constructed suburban neighborhood. The town decided to tear down the trees of her childhood in order to build houses for middle class families. In the middle of the destruction, the damaged economy forced the town to put a freeze on the project. A promise put on pause. Nothing occupied and nothing yet revisited. The only footprints on the path belonged to her. Only crickets broke the silence and it was nice. It was always so nice.
The park had later become a magnet for the local, rebellious youth to gather at night and drink 40s of malt liquor, hidden behind brown paper bags. The swings were the only feature of the park still in tact. Everything else was broken, graffitied, most likely swarming with the likelihood for Hepatitis B and accented by chipped paint. This park held an inexplicable characteristic of feeling like forbidden territory. Not even the dog-walkers passed through during the daylight hours. A sign, as rusted as the metal playground, stood at an angle on the brink of the bike path, reading “No Trespassing” and “Area Under Construction.” Someone had spray painted the yellow sign with tasteless illegible scribbles in black paint.
Jade’s phone rang again, startling the empty silence. There was a cool breeze in her ragged brown hair and she stopped swinging to glance at the screen. It was a restricted number. For what felt like the hundredth time today, she hit ignore. No one can find her here, and she didn't know who'd be looking.
Jade put her phone down onto the grass and lit a cigarette. With a deep inhale, exhale, she began to feel like a human again. There is safety in routine.
The underground world of graffiti was the only thrill that she had ever truly known. She was a toddler when she started drawing, 13 at her first dumpster tag, 17 at her first time bombing a freight train with her art and 21 at her first vandalism arrest. Now at 24, she was beginning to feel like she was entering her prime. She had a few set backs but finally picked a name, settled into her style and had art on buildings on each coast of the US. Her stencils had transformed into the type of street art she always admired. Whatever word came to mind, she wrote, in all caps. Subtle.
Jade felt like the world needed someone like her to state the obvious. Even if her self-inflicted happiness was a mere delusion, she didn’t care. She was studious and committed to her craft. She had blind faith someone would notice her markings. There is danger in routine.
She glanced at her clock and with a small smile, she felt comfort. It was getting darker and it was almost time to play. She stood up and stretched her body out, cracking her back in all the right places.
Jade’s ringtone once again went off. The vibration of the technology hidden in the grass was enough to piss her off. So, she answered.
“Hello?! Who is this?” She said.
“I cannot tell you my name,” a quiet and distorted voice said. “But I can tell you that I have seen your graffiti and that I am quite impressed.”
She rushed the call.
“Ok, cool thanks. But what can I help you with? I’m kind of really busy and this isn’t the best time to talk,” she said.
“I understand. I just wanted to let you know that there’s a really sweet wall that I haven’t seen your work on. Do you know 40 Broadway and State?”
“Yeah, I’ve been around there. I've written there.”
“Someone bombed the entire wall. You'd have a fresh start and a new layer. Just saying." The voice chuckled. Like he knew too much.
Jade tensed up. The phone call felt like a set-up somehow. She has never fallen victim to a late night tip line. Maybe she'd go check it out in the daylight. At night, trust no one but your own instincts and question everything. Graffiti 101.
She said thank you, ended the call, and tried not to question it further. Her night had other plans. No time for distractions or second guesses. She had planned a silhouette of a person sitting on a bench. A self portrait of sorts, comprised of shadows and negative space. She constructed the stencil out of paper, which could be kept rolled up in a tube to be paste up onto a building with a huge roller. Tonight's job was bigger than she normally would attempt for a summer, but indifference to consequence reigned. Her battle cry echoed within her. Onward.
On the walk towards Commonwealth Ave and 1st street, with outdated and inconsistent streetlights as her guide, she felt the energy of the night. The thrill. Adrenaline was pouring through her veins and she was using her peripheral vision like a sleuth. She kicked a rock in front of her and it soared into the abyss. She still had an hour or so to kill before it was the dead middle of the night and people would be less likely to be awake. She walked over to the dark side of the building and stretched. She was stretching her luck and she knew the game all too well.
Jade picked up her paper and felt her fingers spread across the thin, delicate reminder of her past three week's work. This was the only home she ever knew, the only friend she ever truly could keep. For herself and by herself.
She spread the first layer of wheat paste across the paper stencil, against the wall. The beginning of healing. A siren stole her attention. Jade had trained her senses to be fully aware of her surroundings. She wanted to find safety in height, somewhere around this part of town she could run to in case she had to. She waited. The noise was in the distance. She had time. She finished spreading her expression across the brick wall. She breathed it in and wanted to bottle how she felt. No time for cameras.
She started to climb over a fence when she saw something familiar.
It was a tag she did as a former self. She had scrawled the words "nostalgia" on the side of a chimney. Looking up at her writing, Jade wanted to choke on the irony. She remembered that night clearly. It was the last night she had before moving to the opposite side of the country. She was surprised that tag had made the cut and in her hometown, no less. This specific part of town had a large effort placed on cleaning up the city. The idea that removing flowers and words and street art from the walls would improve morale and make the city look cleaner was lost on her. A false sense of security provided by the local government. Abandonment in faith. Lost reminders that people of the night are out there roaming. If you're looking, that is.
She knew the nature of the beast. To create and reinvent in risk. Build. This was what she was looking to do, always. To never feel stagnant.
She turned her brain off for a moment, and didn’t calculate any risks. She didn’t listen to any of her thoughts. Animalistic. Urban.
She climbed up a ladder and felt herself feeling stronger as she got higher. She could feel an aged spray paint can on the sidewalk staring up at her. She kicked over her leg and made it on the roof of a building. She was halfway there, to her old tag. How she made it up this high a few years ago was insane to her. Her petite frame was strong and the motions to go through came back to her, like riding a bike.
She heard a rustle and looked up. A shadow was there, waiting for her.
She stood dead in her tracks, heart racing. She recognized the voice that greeted her with a hello in an instant and grinded her teeth. It was the man from the mysterious phone call earlier.
Even though it was dark – she could see the gleam of him smiling, clear as day.
Whatever was to happen next, all she could think was, "That asshole."
To be continued..