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.