My neighborhood smells like asphalt. And from what I can remember, it’s always smelled that way – lonely, pungent and sharp. My house stands on one side of the asphalt, small, red, and dim. On the other side, stands a park. The park is large, green, and always full of children. Like the asphalt, the children were there from the beginning.

It didn’t matter which children they were, or what names they had. New children always replaced the ones who grew up; and in this sense, the park itself never grew up – it never changed. It remained like a fairy garden, untouched by sorrow or time, cut off from the rest of the world, perfectly green, perfectly beautiful – it was on the other side of the asphalt.  

And I stayed on this side, like a guest who arrived late to the neighborhood’s birth. There was no party, no rejoicing where I was. Soccer, frisbee, and kite-flying were exquisite merchandise that only existed in that foreign land, for its happy, foreign people. Between me and that land lay a canyon of asphalt – an unbridgeable divide molded by furious waters of language and alienation.

People who came later, and people who were younger lept over that canyon with ease. Their paradise was only ten feet from home.

But I could never cross that canyon. I tried many times, my feet sticking to the asphalt, dry air whistling through my teeth.

“Wait for me…” I could hear my own voice like a bell. But for the others, my sound was lost in the tones of the howling wind. And with every breath I took, the asphalt filled my nose and bit the inside with a stinging coldness.

During times like these, I would briefly distract myself by imagining the other side. I thought about the lush bushes, and the laughter, and the muddied pants of those children. I thought about how beautiful and rich those muddied pants looked in comparison to my clean, untouched pants. Sometimes I even wondered what it would be like to actually meet those children – the constantly smiling creatures. I wondered, if upon seeing them, the smiles would melt away into great snapping teeth, like dragons guarding an  exclusive, magical den. Then I would shudder at the thought. And I would retreat.

But above all, I would think intensely  about the word ‘friend.’ I wanted to know what it would be like to have one. What it would be like to hold their hand. What it would be like to play soccer. I wanted to know if I could make one, on that other side of the asphalt. And the desire to do so burned like the smell of the asphalt itself. Lonely, pungent, and sharp.

And I could never erase that smell.

Because my neighborhood has always smelled like asphalt, like the birthday party I never arrived at. And across from my house, lies that large, green park.