My interest in teen health started 8 years ago on a cold winter night. It was about 11p.m. and I was at the top of the Empire State Building. In the warmth of the observation tower my friends chatted about how beautifully New York lit up at night.
Why couldn’t I see it?
When I looked out at all the lights, I felt a call for help. I walked away to an empty window and put my hand on the cold glass to listen more intently. I felt it again: an overwhelming sense of loss, hopelessness. My eyes didn’t focus on the lights of the buildings but the dark streets that cut through the skyline and the abandoned buildings shadowing the lit corporate offices.
They were out there and didn’t think anyone noticed them. I knew they were there because I felt them, heard them.
A teenager was being raped in an apartment building as three looked on. Another was shooting up in a basement as his friend lay dead under the makeshift table. And in the abandoned storage unit? He breathed his last as I whispered, “I see you and won’t forget you. You're not alone.”
He heard me. Or, I fooled myself into believing he heard me. It was as if I was there holding him. The pain lessened and another image moved into my mind.
The images all came quickly. I tried to slow down the rushing thoughts, each overwhelming feeling. I wanted to give each one the attention it needed.
A boy crying in his bedroom wanted to be heard. His loneliness enveloped me as his depression filled my mind. Tears filled my eyes right there in the crowded observation tower. I stood quietly and didn’t move. The thoughts and feelings continued to rush in, on top of each other. I kept my breathing steady, my eyes closed so I could concentrate.
A stranger came up behind me, “Beautiful, isn’t it? Even on a cold night the city lights offer warmth.”
His words broke the connection and I was set free. I opened my eyes and everything rushed out just as quickly as it rushed in.
“Mmmm,” I turned to face him, “not so beautiful to those stuck in the dark, cold places down at the bottom.” He shrugged and walked away.
I didn’t care what he thought of my gloomy observation. We choose to see what we want to see.