You have to remember, I’m a city boy who’d never left the downtown area. Ever. But there I was, heading to God’s country, the middle of freaking nowhere, that desolate place called “Upstate”. I couldn’t believe I was going. I couldn’t believe she had taken me with her.
Her two sons couldn’t believe it either. The bigger one leaned in to me when he thought she wasn’t watching and told me he was carrying a gun and if I even raised my eyebrow the wrong way he’d blow my head off. No court would believe it was anything but self-defense.
I watched out of the window as we drove through the day. The strange open sky fascinated me, as well as all of the trees. There were places with no buildings. No buildings! And then we passed Albany and it seemed there were only trees, trees and mountains, trees stretching infinitely out from the highway. How did I get to this odd place?
She had “out-of-towner” written all over her face, obviously a backwoods local-yokel. I snagged her purse and sprinted. Her second son, the scrawny one, caught me and knocked me down. Before I could get up the big one was on me. He held on tight until the cops came.
Yeah, I have a string of little offenses. Who didn’t? I raised myself in the wild, I had to survive. Being so young I hadn’t done any jail time in the past, but I knew my number was up.
She was at the arraignment hearing. I heard her talking to the court officials. You know, all of the bleeding heart “poor little child in a tough place, hasn’t had any good experiences, blah, blah, blah.”
I have to maintain my reputation or be eaten alive, so I stood up. “Look lady, I ain’t no child, I’m 16, an adult. I know what’s what. I’ve been around the block a few times and know how to make my way in the world. I’m here because I fought for it. Don’t give me that ‘poor mistreated child’ shit. I know the ins and outs of the city better than anyone.”
I was told to shut up and forced back into my seat. I might be going up the river to the Big House, but I had my pride and dignity.
Some court appoint jerk put in an “innocent” plea for me and I was pulled back down to a cell to rot until my trial.
Or so I thought.
That night I was pulled out and question unmercifully about every freaking little detail of my life. They made me sign a bunch of papers. I had no clue what they meant, but the court appointed jerk kept telling me I’d be free if I did all of that crap. I heard one guy grumble and another answered something about not their problem, I was being taken off the streets or some such nonsense. I had no idea what they meant.
Next morning I was released to the woman’s custody and told that if I misbehaved one bit I’d never see the light of day the rest of my life. Fine. Then we got in a car and she started driving, driving. I heard the phrase “outside of Saranac” a few times. She kept telling me that I’d change if I knew anything other than the street. If I saw the real world, knew the universe. Yeah, what a load of crap.
It was dark when we pulled up to a house in the middle of nowhere. I was tired from the long day and started for the door, but she pulled me away from the house, up a hill into a field. I knew then that jail wasn’t enough, she wanted to take personal vengeance on me. When we stopped in the middle of a large field I closed my eyes and waited for the big son to do as he promised and blow my head off.
“What’s wrong with you? Open your eyes and look around,” the woman said. “You’ve never seen anything like this.”
I opened my eyes. She was right, I hadn’t seen anything like it because there was nothing to see, just cold and dark. OK, there was something, but it was almost an absence. We were at the top of a hill, the shadows of distant mountains all around us, but it was dark, very dark. There were no lights around, not one. I couldn’t see any buildings, no skyscrapers, not even any houses. No signs of civilization. I was cold and it was dark. What in the hell did she want?
“No, look up,” she said.
Up? Why look up?
I had seen a star. Once. Yeah, maybe I’d seen them a couple of times. Never understood the big deal people made of them.
For a moment I saw a few bright stars shining coldly at me. But then the sky began to resolve and I saw hundreds, no, thousands, no, millions upon millions of stars. There was a large band across the sky that at first looked solid but then I noticed it was all stars. More and more. Everywhere I looked. If there were two stars with nothing in between, looking closer I saw that there was actually an infinite amount there, going forever and forever.
“Infinity” and “forever”. Words that I used all of the time but had no meaning to me, suddenly became my reality.
I looked around at the landscape. Now that my eyes had acclimated everything was silvery and black in the starlight, the trees and mountains. But they all seemed small and insignificant compared to the sky.
“Take me back to the city. I promise I won’t hurt anyone anymore,” I said.
The big son giggled. the woman shushed him.
“You’ve heard that saying ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’?” she asked. I nodded. It was stupid. “Today, for you it’s true. Look up there again. That’s your future. Tomorrow we get you enrolled in school. From there? We’ll see. Take a long look and think about it.”
Looking into the face of forever, seeing the eyes of the universe, things began to clear up. A bright streak flashed from one end of the sky to the other.
“A shooting star,” the scrawny son said.
“A meteor,” the big one said.
“Make a wish,” said the woman.
I had no words for it, but as I stared up I made the first wish I had ever made in my life. A wish thrown up to the infinite and the unknown. A wish to the new life ahead.