Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong
The Way We Were
The Way We Were
Aubrey, Cal, and Leo Mitchell had a knack for trouble. In their respective seventeen, sixteen, and thirteen years, all three siblings had ended up in the principal's office a combined thirty-five times. None of them were necessarily bad children, but a combination of unfortunate events and a failing inner-city school system had left the Mitchells trapped in a state of vexation and disorder. Now, after a solid eleven and a half years of struggle, Aubrey was escaping the trapping of her childhood for the freedom of college on the other side of the country. Funded with a full swimming scholarship and motivated by an intense desire to escape, the day had finally come.
Aubrey. Brown hair, green eyes, metal-rimmed glasses that have long since needed replacing, seventeen years old, and a need to get OUT. Stepping over piles of books, clothes, and other random things that had accumulated over the years, Aubrey crossed the entirety of the bedroom she shared with her two brothers in approximately five small strides and entered the hallway. Number 207 was 800 square feet, had two bedrooms and was home to the four Mitchells and their small, skittish cat, Chip. Located in a small building in Washington Heights NYC, Number 207's five windows looked out onto a small park, scattered with mostly dead trees and a few elderly couples out for a morning walk. The Mitchells had lived in 207 for around four years, yet beat-up brown cardboard boxes were still full of old family pictures and childhood artwork yet to be hung up. Shimmying past one of the boxes, Aubrey moved down the narrow hallway and into the main area of the apartment. One side of the big open room was a kitchen, with a patchwork of different styles of appliances that constantly seemed to be breaking down, and a small, square dining table surrounded by four different chairs. The other side was the living room: two old armchairs that had been purchased from a thrift store, a green couch that the Mitchells had owned for nearly thirty years, and a coffee table from IKEA. One wall was lined with bookshelves that had been full for quite some time, leaving the contents spilling all over the floor.
"Almost done packing yet, Bre?" Mrs. Mitchell called from the kitchen table, not even looking up from her laptop.
"Eh. I've still got to run down the street to do my laundry." Aubrey replied, pulling on her battered old converse, "Which, before you ask, I'm going to do now."
"Ok, Bre. Hopefully, they call in a guy soon to fix the machine downstairs. It's getting awfully annoying tugging everything down the street and back."
Suddenly, a streak of fur flew down the hall, landing not so gracefully on the coffee table, narrowly missing a cold cup of tea that had been sitting there for far too long.
"Oh dear god." Mrs. Mitchell exclaimed, putting her head to her chest. "That cat is going to be the death of me. I swear it."
"Oh common, mom," Leo said, emerging from the bedroom down the hall. "He's just having some fun. Wait, where are you going?"
Aubrey was halfway out the door, with the laundry bag slung over her shoulder like a teenage Santa Claus.
"Laundry. No, you can't come," she said, pulling the door shut to block out her brother's protests about how he never got to do anything.
Washington Heights was a neighborhood in upper Manhattan known for its vibrant culture, affordable housing, and being the inspiration behind the hit broadway musical In the Heights. All the shops and buildings looked like they were trapped in another time. However, Aubrey was tired of the area. Seventeen years of the same street would do that to a person. Strolling along the old, cracked sidewalks, with her laundry bag over her shoulder and her nearly decade-old headphones blasting music in her ears, she surveyed the street: lined with trees and storefronts, full of people going about their lives, chatting in different languages, standing underneath the colorful awnings above the doors. It should have been a sentimental moment for Aubrey. After all, she was leaving for college just that afternoon, but she felt nothing but excitement to leave the street, the neighborhood, and the city behind.
Crossing the street, Aubrey had a clear view of Fairway Suites. A tall, brick building with a grand facade and neat row of carefully trimmed bushes in front. She remembers playing on the sidewalk outside with her brothers, crossing the lobby to the elevator, and waving to the neighbors in the hallways. The Mitchells had moved from Fairway Suites four years prior, after struggling to pay rent on the larger apartment. Aubrey remembers the days when she had her own room, playing on the sunbathed living room floor, chasing her dad around in circles until they fell, breathless, on the carpet.
Her dad. Aubrey tried not to think of him. Jeremey Mitchell had worked at the NYC fire department for fifteen years. When Aubrey was eleven years old, he was called out late at night. She remembered sitting awake all night and into the early hours of the morning waiting for him. But he never came back. Later, they learned that he had gone back into the building to save someone but the fire consumed him. Aubrey had been so mad at him. Didn't he know that he had a family at home? Three kids? A cat? She resented him and the way he had to be so selfless.
The laundry mat nearest to 207 was rundown, dirty, and smelled vaguely of mushrooms. It had been run by the same old lady, who everyone just knew as Auntie, for almost sixty years. Aubrey passed by the chatting neighbors, trying to avoid stepping on someone's small child. Auntie's machine only cost about a quarter to run, as they had the entire time the place had been open. How the women stayed in business was a mystery. Aubrey inserted her coin, kicked the door closed, and headed out the door, avoiding eye contact with everyone. The bell above the door jingled as she pushed her way out onto the streets.
Exactly six years, 5 weeks, and 4 days. July 15th, 2016 was the last time Aubrey had seen her dad. Earlier that day, he had taken his three kids out to lunch at Colombo's Family Pizza Parlor.
"We'll have a 17-inch pizza with just cheese," she remembered him saying to the server.
Aubrey stood outside Colombo's now, six years, 5 weeks, and 4 days later, staring at the door and the sign on it: Closed due to lack of funds. We apologize for any inconvenience. The restaurant had closed just about four years ago, around the time the Mitchells moved from Fairway Suites to number 207, just down the street, and nobody had bought the building. It was like the world was doing everything in its power to help Aubrey remember him. Having to walk past the empty Colombo's every day, and look up into the windows of Fairway Suites. All the memories she had with him. But it was hard to move on when everything was a constant reminder of the way things were.
Her bags were packed, her things had been loaded into cardboard boxes, and her corner of the room was blank, only the shadow of herself remaining. Number 207 had never felt like home. Aubrey had never felt like she belonged within its walls. It was simply a stop on the train of her life.
Mrs. Mitchell knocked on the door.
"The taxi is waiting outside if you're ready."
Aubrey stood up from her bed and slung her backpack over her shoulder. Looking around the room one more time.
"I'm ready," she said, lifting a couple of boxes from the floor.
Her mother, picking up the remaining bags, followed Aubrey out of the room, down the steps of the building to the lobby, and out onto the sidewalk. Mrs. Mitchell loaded the trunk, and climbed into the backset next to her daughter, and the taxi sped off down the street. Away from Number 207, away from Auntie's, and Colombo's, and Fairway Suites. Away from the way things were.