“Maybe I’ll just destroy them and never do it again,” Brooke whined as she stomped her feet on the cracked sidewalk, flooded with cigarette butts.

“My God Brooke, stop being so melodramatic. Did you even listen to him after he said you’re not right for admission?” Brooke stared down at her perfectly white Nike sneakers, not uttering a word.

“Exactly,” Erin Scoffs, “You’re never going to make it out here if you can’t take even a little criticism. The second you hear something you don’t like, it’s like you shut down completely and act as if you’re some kind of helpless, aspiring, artistic victim. He told you what you needed to work on. Now work on it or keep crying, the choice is yours.” Erin shakes her head as she strides away, through the white painted rectangles on the gravel, allowing her to walk. Brooke, still looking at her feet, waits for approximately four seconds before breaking her dignity, prancing after Erin. New York City was a scary place, but she’d need to get over that fear if she ever wanted to go to NYU.

“Okay! Fine!” Brooke yells after Erin. “What did he say? What do I need to do?” Erin finishes her strides through the intersection before turning back to meet Brooke’s pitiful eyes.

“Brooke, you’re a talented girl. Your paintings are amazing and you’ve got real potential. But, you’re never going to get anywhere if you keep pretending like your life is so hard. Look at these.” Erin commands as she gently takes Brooke’s portfolio out of her clenched fists. “These look great, but they’re not significant. If you want to be a designer for TJ Maxx house decor, then you’re on the right track, but if you want to be a real artist, you’ve got to give these things a meaning, a voice, a story.” Brooke says nothing as she takes her art pieces back from her older sister and walks past her.

“Yeah who am I kidding.” Erin takes a deep breath and rolls her eyes before following Brooke to the subway.

Later that day Brooke was swinging in the hanging bubble chair that hovered over the far left corner of her room. She opened her laptop and started researching successful artists, but she was met with articles and lengthy abstracts before seeing any actual artwork. The more she dug, the more and more words appeared on her screen. Backstories to the pieces and personal stories of inspiration accompanying each digital canvas. Before growing too bored, Brooke read a few of these acceptance-winning art descriptions and noticed they all had something in common. They all spoke to personal trauma, to some extent, and if it wasn’t their own, it was the tragic story of another they seem to have researched. Social justice, human rights, and vengeance were their inspiration. Brooke looked around at her classroom-sized bedroom and had an epiphany. All the times Erin had ironically called her a victim, she wasn’t being ironic at all. Brooke looks at herself in the mirror and realizes she has never withstood any trauma and therefore had no means for a significant story. Oh, I’m a victim, she thought, a victim of privilege.

Brooke began to fill with rage. Envy of the lower-middle class who work 30 hours a week on top of being a full-time student. Jealousy of the prospering artist working in the rustic attic of their abusive household, trying to make it out. Resenting the girl in her dad’s old, stained, work clothes, using scrap metal as a canvas and a paper plate as a pallet. At least they had a story to tell. Heating up, Brooke stomped to her private bathroom and began scrubbing her face with a Neutrogena cleansing towelette, making sure no trace of cosmetics were left to cover up her already flawless skin. She threw her hair up in a perfectly manicured “messy” bun and snuck into Erin’s much smaller bedroom. She grabbed the dingiest pair of denim she could find and a half hung-up flannel from the closet and put them on. If she wanted their story, she had to look the part.

Out the door, she marched in her new disheveled costume, with the intent to write her own story. Brooke made her way to an alley she’d seen almost every day on her morning jog with Midnight, her Afghan hound with a pink bow. Every day, no matter the time, when Brooke passes this alley, she is consumed with a gut full of pressure, causing her to sprint until she is approximately a hundred feet away and can return to her light jog. It might seem bizarre, but it was one way Brooke knew for sure she’d get a rush. That’s when it hit her, she had been standing outside the alleyway for a whole minute now, and nobody had come to brutally murder her, but if she was going to have a story, she needed to be the bait. What better way to create a story than by experiencing the rush of a lifetime by actually walking down that dark, smelling alley.

As she crept around piles of garbage and piles of what she could only hope was mud, Brooke made her way to what she thought was a dead-end; a cracked brick wall with weeds growing out of every crevasse. It wasn’t until she reached out to touch the red rock that she looked to her right and noticed the other wall had opened up. It wasn’t a dead-end, but another alley after all. Out of boredom for what she found in the terrifyingly haunted alley she had made up in her head, she took that right turn and headed down an even darker, wetter, narrower aisle. As she started forward, feeling the walls on either side of her with both hands unable to see, she stumbled upon a cold pipe on the left. Barely able to make out even the basic shapes of what stood before her, she shifted all her attention to the pipe beside her.

As she felt around the pipe, now with both hands, she noticed a horizontal pipe attached to the original one she had felt. While continuing to imagine what she was in front of, she traced her hand along the horizontal pipe which was met with a parallel vertical pipe, roughly two feet to the right of the first pipe she felt. Then, upon further inspection, she came to the conclusion that this was, in fact, a rusty, steel, ladder.

Before letting the fear intensify and creep back into her stomach and out of her throat, she took a deep breath and started climbing. Unable to see still, she took her time feeling every inch of steel before making her next maneuver up the wobbly ladder. After many minutes, slowly making her way up, she went to feel for the next rod and was met with a flat surface and the sound of a hollow metal sheet, like that of a sidewalk cellar, when her hand hit it. While stepping up the next steps, trying to keep her balance as she was now out of handles, she managed to get her head high enough over the surface level to peer over the new floor. She was met with a shy beam of sunlight peeking through a shattered window in the corner of the low ceilinged room. She had never seen a place like this before. The floors consist of wooden beams with rusty nails, and metal sheets. She crawled up onto the surface, having to duck to move around. As she inched to the center of the room and sat down, she realized she felt at peace. All of a sudden, everything was quiet. No more sirens or taxi horns, no more screaming, or dogs barking. The noises she knew; the sounds of New York had disappeared.

Sitting in the lightly lit room, in silence, Brooke closed her eyes and began to repaint her pictures in her head. She thought about each stroke of the paintbrush that was made, and what she felt while doing so. Whenever she painted she thought she had sole talent with no inspiration, as she did not research or assign a meaning to any particular piece before she started. But as the compilation of paint swatches, strokes, and water swishes cycled through her head, she experienced the same feelings she remembered having during the time of painting, and with this nostalgic epiphany, an overwhelming feeling of content filled her body, leaving her confident with emotional knowledge to understand meanings of each and every story she has painted.