I was born and raised in Manhattan, but I left to go away to college and never came back for more than a few weeks at a time. Despite this fact, whenever I return for a visit I want desperately to feel as though I fit in here, if only for one long weekend or so every few months.
Does anyone else ever feel this way about coming home? This strange fierce surge of possessiveness when you walk down streets you used to call yours? A need to feel as though you still belong there? I make myself crazy sometimes, with my pitiful, raw longing for some kind of recognition from the city itself that it is my hometown. It’s as though I expect traffic cops to smile and nod as I pass them, and grocery clerks to hi-five me and say, “Welcome back!”
I grew up here, and I’m back for a few days. What do I want, a cookie?
The thing is, it’s difficult to feel like Manhattan is yours, even when you do live there—even while growing up there and spending your childhood exploring it and taking it for granted. It’s hard to feel like you own ANY city, but especially New York, the commercial landscape of which seems to change every twenty-four hours. You can go away for the weekend and when you come back a spa and a cupcake shop have appeared on your block. This city is a Labyrinth of constantly evolving banks and bodegas, noisy construction sites and fruit stands. You might discover a fantastic Mexican place around the corner one day and two weeks later it’s a gym.
I have heard friends from other places complain that going home is a stultifying experience because nothing has ever changed, but this idea makes me a little envious. Very little of the neighborhood of my youth has remained the same. Maybe the problem is that a person wants to feel as though they’ve outgrown the place they’re from. After all, they lived there when they were young and foolish, and they’ve changed so much since then! But I will never outgrow Manhattan, or leave it behind. Manhattan will always be cooler and more sophisticated than I am…and almost as neurotic.
Part of my problem is that most of my childhood friends are still here. Many of them left to go to college, but returned soon after. Why this should make me feel guilty, I don’t know, but it does. I feel like a traitor, an abandoner. I let the siren song of cheaper rent and cleaner streets lure me to cities in other states. My parents remained in my childhood apartment in Manhattan, and I told myself I didn’t want to stay in the same city as my parents. I told myself I couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan and didn’t want to live in any other boroughs. I told myself I knew I’d always end up back in New York eventually.
So when I do come home to visit, slipping back into the mix and trying to act as though I haven’t been gone for months, in the back of my mind I feel like New York is indifferent to my presence. It doesn’t care if I stay or go; it’s been doing fine without me. It’s over me. And I’ll never be over New York.
August 19, 2008 at 4:43 pm
Every time I visit my two best friends from college in Ohio (where I’m from) I have this burning desire to get married, have a few kids, buy a house in the ‘burbs, and just be done with it already. It’s passing, thank God, because 99% percent of the time, I’m all, “They’re MY AGE and have 5 kids between them. WTF? We’re too young to have kids.” And that feels more right. But for that a moment or two, it just seems like things would be a lot easier if I just gave in and went home.
August 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm
I think it probably has a lot to do with where you’re from and how you feel about where you’re from (for instance, Manhattan is generally considered to be cooler than Northern Virginia, and possibly as a result I don’t feel a particular attachment to the area).
But I do feel a lot of uncertainty when people ask me where I’m from. I guess the answer is the DC area, but I haven’t lived there since I was seventeen and couldn’t recommend any bars or restaurants or give directions to anything other than the mall or Chantal’s house. And after only four years in Boston, I don’t think I can claim to be from here either.
August 22, 2008 at 10:32 am
When I live in Manhattan, I avoid Times Square as much as possible. When I visit Manhattan, I go through Times Square, once, and think, “Ah, this is my city.” Feeling underwhelmed by Times Square makes me feel like I still belong.
Not quite conversely, when I leave a place, I appreciate it if it’s good enough to wither and die for want of me. Manhattan is obstinate, in this regard. I might belong, but it doesn’t belong to me. I find this troubling.
August 23, 2008 at 3:43 am
You are so much cooler than Manhattan.
September 1, 2008 at 6:03 am
When I got to the last line of this, I was struck: “God. I hope New York and I never break up. I would die.”
So — I guess I can relate.
October 8, 2008 at 6:33 am
I lived in Manhattan during my freshman year of high school. Seven years later, on a visit around my old neighborhood, I stopped at a street vendor and found the same man there tending the stand as from my high school days. I greeted him like an old friend, expecting him to recognize me (after all, I’d been his customer almost every day for an entire year) only to be given a blank stare. I feel your pain!
1:30am. Still reading…