O N E
If I could have one wish, I’d use it to erase him from my life. He was someone I used to trust, someone I used to love, but now the mere thought of him sends a chill down my spine. God, he’s the reason for every single terrible thing that’s happened in my life. I could ignore what he has done and try to move on, but I carry the scars along with me no matter where I go. Seven years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night to the feeling of the air being knocked out of my lungs over and over again while I beg him to stop. I go to sleep every night, petrified that one day he’ll find me and finish what he started, but for now, I’m as safe as I can be.
His reign of terror drained the life out of me, but I learned how to live for myself without him after moving to New York. It’s different from the suburbs that I’m so used to, with people always on the go, giving zero shits about anyone around them. It’s the perfect place to rebuild myself, and so I did.
After careful deliberation, I chose to attend New York University, also known as NYU, for their Dual BS/MS program. Through this, I could become an accountant at an accelerated pace. Not only did this program have good career prospects once you leave school, but it’s also practical in this day and age. I knew that I couldn’t make a living off being a painter, so I did the next best thing.
My university commitment seemed to cause an uproar in my family because I shouldn’t be moving so far away for school. I understand why since both my mother and father attended school in this town and started their life together. Though they’re trying to force me to stay by threatening no financial support and hinting at disowning me. Ultimately, it comes down to whether I could go to school here and feel safe; The simple answer is no. I know it comes across as disobedient and selfish, but I cannot spend another minute in a town that won’t believe anything I have to say. I can’t spend another moment with a family who is willing to cover up their daughter’s pain and suffering to maintain their stupid reputation. I won’t do it anymore.
This cross-country move would’ve been difficult if I were alone, but luckily, I wasn’t. My best friend, Katerina Tsvetkov, signed with a prominent modelling agency a few months before graduated with their main base being New York. Since our freshman year of high school, she’s been professionally modelling with a smaller agency in our town. It’s not until junior year that she realized that she could maybe pursue it as a career. Unlike my family, her dad is incredibly supportive of what she does since she is his only kid. When the agency signed her as a model, he backed her decision to move cross-country to fulfil her dreams. It makes him feel better that she isn’t going alone either since we’ve grown up together, I look up to him like another dad, one who actually cares about what happens to his kids.
Katerina’s life always feels so perfect compared to mine, but I know it’s not fair to say that. Her mother left her dad when she was only three, so the memories she has of her aren’t as clear. Her dad always made sure to remind her that her mother loves her, but she needed to go for her sake, which isn’t really true since she cheated on him with her co-worker. Katerina knew that the adjustment of being a single dad was tough. Still, he did the best he could, but it got more difficult once she started to grow up. Katerina grew into the spitting image of her mother: her vivid hazel eyes with golden flecks, reddish-brown colour that changes in every light, and pale skin that looks like it’s glowing. Katerina did take her height of 5′10 and sharp bone structure from her father, but that alone isn’t enough to counteract her resemblance.
Katerina always talks about how she knows how much her dad sacrificed for her after her mother left them, so she always tries to do the thing that will make him proud. This way of thinking is why she really didn’t initially want to move away or accept the modelling agency’s offer. She applied to a couple of universities in our state to study biology and continue modelling as a side gig. Her dad actually convinced her that doing what she thinks would please him would eventually come back to bite her. Now she and I have lived together in Brooklyn for the past seven years, pursuing our own careers.
After finishing school, she and I decided to move away from the NYU campus and rent a different apartment together. My parents took action on their threats for no financial support, so I’ve been working on paying off my student debt as I studied. I managed to save the money I’ve earned through tutoring, commissions, and co-op in a bank and pay-off some of the loans I took out. I am very grateful that I had a scholarship that helps pay for almost three-quarters of my schooling. I guess it really does pay to be a good student. The money I have leftover after expenses are paid is for covering my monthly expenses covers the apartment’s cost.
Being in Brooklyn, the rent prices vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Knowing our careers and salaries, the most we are willing to pay is around $2500. Surprisingly, one of the first apartments we looked into met all our requirements. Since it also fell into our price range, we took it as a sign that this is our new home. Once we put down the first three months’ rent, Katerina and I started cleaning out our old place and moved into the new one. Since I know that neither of us wants to start our new life with all the junk we’ve collected over the years, we made the decision to sell a lot of our stuff.
After selling most of our unnecessary belongings, we finally moved into our new place. Of course, selling our stuff gave us a significant amount of money to decorate our apartment. Since both of us are no longer being held down by our town’s conservative ways, we’ve finally developed our own styles, free of judgement. If you were to visit our apartment, it’s pretty simple to identify who’s room belongs to who.
Katerina has adopted a high-end lifestyle filled with glitz and glam, which matches her model status. She designed the room to be a Pinterest board come to life. There are fairy lights stringed along the wall, posters of vintage magazine shoots, polaroids arranged in a checkered pattern, white furniture decorated with small plants and different gold trinkets she found at a thrift store and a vanity filled with all the makeup she’s collected over the years. It sounds pretty, but it never stays that way for long. Whenever she has a shoot, her room becomes a warzone with clothes scattered across the floor and her vanity covered with various makeup products. After two months of that mess, she finally invested in a rack to keep her modelling outfits. In short, she’s a glamorous mess.
My room, on the other hand, is more toned down. I prefer neutral tones rather than bright and colourful ones. I have a small bookcase that I found at a garage sale and filled with my favourite books. I should have known that it wouldn’t be big enough because now I stack the books on top of it. Near my window, I’ve set up an easel along with a container carrying my paints and brushes. The rest of the room is relatively simple, with a dark oak desk that holds my computer and binder for when I work from home and my bed pushed into the far-left corner of my room. My closet isn’t as fashionable as Katerina; it’s filled with neutral tones, turtlenecks, blazers, pants, and other layering pieces. I like the more simplistic look since it contrasts my soon to be heavy work life. It’s one of the only places that gives me a sense of peace.
Moving away from our rooms, the rest of our apartment looks straight out of a catalogue with dark hardwood floors, marble countertops, a small dining table, a couch dead center of our living room and a TV we brought with us from our town. When we moved in, we spent a lot of time organizing the kitchen since Katerina loves cooking whenever she’s not at a shoot. Overall, our place is a dream come true, and I’m proud that it turned out so well. This place is like a safe haven from all the work and drama of the real world. With both of us running on different schedules, the only times we usually see each other is during the mornings and sometimes evening. So, it’s a nice place for us to slow down while the world moves fast. It’ll take time to adjust to our new space, but everything will start to move more smoothly once we do.
It’s been over a year since Katerina and I moved into our apartment in Brooklyn. I was right to say that in time everything will start to feel normal. We finally fell into a nice schedule that fits both of us. She’s not in the city at the moment, so I’ve been roaming around our apartment trying to find something to eat before work. When we were moving to our place, I also got my public accountant certification. I soon received a job offer from a small architecture firm on Long Island called Ryland Architects Incorporated. As of two weeks ago, I’ve worked there for a year. With everything that has happened to me, this job is proof that I don’t half to let it define me. The position at Ryland’s has allowed me to become more social and make new friends as well. I find it so interesting that my life would be so different if I had stayed in Utah and stayed with the man who caused me so much pain.
Lost in my train of thought, I almost forgot why I’m in the kitchen to make breakfast. I spot a banana in the fruit bowl and decide to add some instant oatmeal. I quickly grab the necessary ingredients to concoct my Master Chef worthy breakfast, oatmeal topped with brown sugar and banana slices. I inhale my meal, hoping I won’t choke since I have to leave for work in ten minutes. Rushing to clean the kitchen up, I grab my belongings and run out the door to the elevator.
The ride down to the parking garage is usually a talkative one, but with Kat away on business, I stare at the ground in hopes that no one gets on the elevator. Today must be my lucky day because when I hear the doors open, I look up to see that I’ve made it down. I speed-walk to my car, swiftly getting in and backing out, which starts my daily drive to work. The drive should take about 30 minutes without traffic, but the day Brooklyn doesn’t have traffic is when pigs fly. Since I left at 7:30 AM, I should arrive at Ryland’s by 8:15 AM, give or take 15 minutes.
I arrive on schedule, but as I walk in, something doesn’t feel right. Usually, the pin-drop silent office would be filled with the hustle and bustle of my co-workers. It’s one of the best parts about working here because every single of them manages to always be upbeat and unapologetically themselves. As I walk past the empty desks, I hear whispers coming from the hallway. I walk over, slightly nervous about what I’d see. I’m shocked to see the entire office huddled around the bulletin board that is usually filled with silly jokes and pictures of our office parties. Finding the intensity that everyone was staring at the board odd, I tap on my friend Nancy’s shoulder and ask her what they’re looking at. She turns towards me slightly and shakes her head, gesturing for me to go and look at it myself. I slowly excuse myself, attempting to get closer to the board, but as I finally reach it, I feel my blood run cold.
Ashford & Galloway, one of New York’s most successful architecture firms, owns Ryland Architects Inc. as of today. It also says we won’t be coming back here starting next week. I read on, hoping the news couldn’t get any worse, but it somehow does. Since they own the office, they reserve the right to conduct re-entry interviews. If they find that you’re not essential to their company, they also reserve the right to fire you. The final line reads that A&G will be sending out an email where we must reserve an interview spot. Understanding why the office had been drained of energy, I push back through the crowd and head to my desk.
With the bulletin board’s words stamped fresh in my mind, I sit down and start to work for what I now know is my last week of work at Ryland’s. A feeling of uneasiness washes over me as I realize how much I like this job. I reached a place in my life where everything is starting to feel normal, but now it might all be ripped away because someone decided that they had a little money to spend.
What would have been a productive Monday has been ruined by the prospective job losses that would begin starting next week. Sitting at their desks, people try to get some work done, but the damp mood just brings down all our motivation to finish to zero. After what feels like the longest eight hours of my life, I can finally leave. Saying goodbye to Nancy and a few other co-workers, I head out to the parking lot.
By the time I get home, it’s almost 5:30 PM. Since Katerina isn’t home, I would only need to make dinner for myself, so there is no need to start cooking. I kick off my flats and saunter towards my room. I couldn’t help but feel angry that Ashford & Galloway can fire whoever they want. It’s not like I want to work for them, but I need the money. I drop my handbag and binder on my desk and head over to my closet to find some clothes to paint in. I pick up my oversized grey t-shirt and black spandex shorts off my closet floor, then head over to the bathroom to change.
I go back to my room and sit in front of my easel. Since freshman year of high school, I’ve dealt with stress or any negative feelings in two ways: ranting to Katerina or painting. Today painting will have to do since she’s in a shoot until 9 PM tonight, and by then, calling her would be selfish since she’s been working since 6 AM. I close my eyes and pick out three colours to start my painting and squeeze small amounts of each onto my pallet. Once they’re all on, I pick up a brush out of the collection I’ve amassed over the years and start. Even as I paint, I pray to the universe that I’ll be able to keep my job. But if I’ve learned anything from my 24 years on this mess of a world, it’s that nothing ever goes the way we expect it to.