By Olivia Bussell
In and out. Don’t get caught. I take out a can and shake it. I pop off its top and spray the first line. Back and forth, I watch as the lines come together. I grab a second can out of my black duffle bag, pop off its top, and add more details to my creation.
I can see the sky sinking below the clouds. As a train races by, it shakes the bricks of the train I’m under as I spray them. I step back to gaze at my work.
Limitless, is what I wrote despite the fact that I’m not quite sure what that feels like. I feel as close to limitless as I can be when I’m creating my art. It fills me with a sense of freedom in ways that I can’t quite describe. Graffiti is so enticing to me. The thrill of painting the side of a train or building before getting caught, just appeals to me more than the thought of sitting at a desk, with a piece of paper. Maybe this would be the case for other people too, if people would accept graffiti. What they see as destructive and crude, could be a masterpiece.
I turn away from the brick arch and bounce lightly on the balls of my feet, before breaking into a run. I feel the dirt beneath my worn sneakers as I jog past an old abandoned car lot and ignore the guys leaning against their cars, drinking their lives out of brown bottles. I jog past the bingo hall in which I never plan to enter. I also end up jogging past one of my own spray painted works of art on a the wall of a nice coffee shop. I notice something different about my handiwork. I had drawn a woman and her baby, and I notice the word “peaceful” around the two of them. I think back to why I drew the woman and the baby. Peacefulness had nothing to with it, but it doesn’t matter now. Not to me anyway.
I eventually arrive at my cousin Richie´s run down hotel, partially out of breath from the run. I look up at the hotel´s sign that says, ‘Enjoy your comfortable stay!’ I laugh and think to myself that it really should say, ‘Enjoy your stay with the friendly cockroaches that live here!’ I walk through the front door and Richie´s employee , Amy, glances up at me as she mindlessly scrolls through her phone. As I walk past her, she says, “Where ya been, Squirt?” I turn to her cautiously, hoping she can’t hear the slight clink of the cans in my bag.
“The deli down the street,” I say.
Amy crosses her arms. “Mmhm. The deli shop, huh?” She doesn’t look convinced, but she looks back at her phone. I trudge down the hallway, take out my spare key, and open the door to me and Richie’s apartment at the back of the hotel. Once inside, I empty my bag of the spray cans and place them under the loose board under our rickety couch. Just as I finish, Richie comes in and puts a bag down on the table.
“I brought home food from Uncle Tito’s deli, ” he says. “I brought you soup from that run down shack of a restaurant you like so much.”
He takes the soup out of the bag and hands it to me. He smells like smoke, and he doesn’t smile when he shoves the styrofoam bowl in my hand. I’ve gotten used to these little things.
“Aren’t you gonna thank me?” He barks at me.
I try not to roll my eyes as I say, “Thank you,” without bothering to be sincere.
He looks at me with unforgiving eyes. “I don’t like sarcasm or an attitude and you know that.”
I turn and begin to walk towards my room.
“I took you out of that place. You should be grateful. I took you from that horrid place you and your mother lived in.”
Oh god, he’s at it again.
I feel the tears rising and I continue to walk to my room.
“She married that man and look where it got her. A screwed up life, and a screwed up son,” he continues.
I open the door and slam it behind me. I try not to think about my mom. The words ‘screw up’ bounces around my skull.
I climb out of my window, bowl in hand, and climb onto my sacred place. Who would’ve thought that a roof could bring so much peace. I come here when Richie mentions my mom or calls me a screw up. So that he can’t see the hurt or the tears on my face. I’m finding myself up here more often.
The next day, I wake up to the sound of Richie’s voice. I want to avoid him at all costs, so I put on my sneakers, grab my bag, and dash out of my room. I run and run until I find myself under that same bridge from the day before, facing the word limitless. I sit down hardly able to breathe, but still manage to cry. I hardly ever let myself cry, but today it comes uncontrollably. I used to tell myself, You’re Nick Livingston. You’re not a cry baby. But I can no longer believe these words after holding in the pain for so long.
Through tears, I glance at the wall across from me and see that word again. Limitless. I keep seeing this word but why does it feels so far away? Limitless. As another tear falls down my face, I take one of the cans out of my bag and look at it.
I take a deep breath and stand. I examine the wall that was previously behind me. I look at the blank bricks. I open the can and begin to write. When I step back again, I’ve written, ‘Who am I?’ I stare at the words in intricate bubble letters and sharp, harsh lines. I’ve sat on the roof of Richie’s hotel and asked myself this over and over. I still don’t know who I am and where the heck I fit into it all. Unaware of my surroundings, I don’t notice the man approach me until he yells, “Hey, you!” It’s a cop.
In a haze, I try to grab my bag, wiping away the last of my tears, but I fall. As the cop approaches I know this is the end. When he grabs my shirt and I look up at him, he looks tired and run down. “Where do you think you’re going?”, he asks.
I stay frozen, my chest pulled forward by his grip on my shirt. Then suddenly his frustrated face softens as he looks down at me. He lets me go and I land hard on my back, and the force knocks the wind out of me. He sighs and backs away from me.
He stands in front of my words and stares. He puts his hands on his hips. “Did you make this?”
I am tense, but I answer. “Yeah.” As he continues to look at my words I have a feeling he’s asked himself this question often too.
He holds out his hand to me. “Give me one of those cans, kid.” I do and he writes “strong”. A cop. Spray painting a wall. Definitely something I never thought I’d see. “You know,” he says. “I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to this for a while. I’m tired of chasing people around this city and something tells me that you’re tired of running.” I stand, not knowing what to do.
“I wrote strong because what you’re going through, is very similar to what I’m going through. But even as we struggle, it takes the strongest of heart and mind to prevail.”
He turns away from me and begins to walk back towards where his car is parked. I’m stunned by his words as I watch him drive away.
When I returned the next day, the entire brick arch is covered in words. Painted, written, and drawn. I look at the words. Worthy, beautiful, full are all words I see. I notice the cop at one end of the bridge. He smiles at me and I notice that there is a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before.
I walk over to him and he must see my surprise because he begins to explain. “I know some guys at the local papers and they were interested when I told them about this place. They came here themselves and wrote an article about it and clearly the word spread.” He gazes around and in this moment I realize that by inspiring one person, I inspired so many others in the process. I’m not a screw up like Richie says. I am Nick Livingston. I’m...limitless.