One of the first things a handful of people asked when they learned Tia and I split up is if I was staying in New York. Without hesitation I answered yes. I mean, obviously, right? I’m pretty invested here by now. I have a job I love, and at a minimum I’m stuck in a near-impossible-to-break apartment lease through this year. But maybe they meant after that. I suppose I don’t blame them.
The thing about deciding to upend your life and move for someone is even if it’s the right thing to do, somewhere in the back of their minds, other people can’t help but think the person is the only reason you are where you are. This seems particularly true if they want you to be somewhere else. More specifically, if they want you to be where they are. Again, I don’t blame them.
But no, leaving New York didn’t even for a second cross my mind. For one, I adore my job. For the first time in my life I’ve held a job for over a year and a half and still look forward to going into the office every day. That’s pretty fucking rare, and it’s hard to walk away from. But more than that, New York’s become home to me. I may have had a bit of apprehension when I decided to move here, but I got over it pretty quickly.
It’s been an interesting journey, and I find myself having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why I feel this way. I was recently asked by a near-stranger what about New York I really like. In an awkward scramble to answer I said something about the energy of the city. Which sounds like a stupid cliche-ass answer if ever I heard one. But as I’ve mulled it over more thoroughly, that feels like a legitimate answer to some degree.
I don’t experience it often, admittedly. Indeed, something I love about my Queens neighborhood is that it’s really quiet. An almost-escape in one of the largest cities in the world. But when I put my game face on and brave the crowds, or take a second to really look around and take it in, there’s just... a feeling in New York. And I haven’t been anywhere else that evokes the same sense of gravity. Waxing poetic is probably useless without examples...
On my way home from work today I had a thought as I passed Trinity Church. The sun drifting between the buildings, bathing the spires in a warm, almost-dusk light, with the World Trade Center looming in the background. The tower shimmering brightly in the same glow of the sun with a near-opposite effect from the church was a pretty exhilarating view. The obvious collisions of drastically different time periods is part of what makes this dynamic city such an interesting place to be. This isn’t any unique revelation. I’m far from the first to think or say this, I’m sure. But until you live it first hand it’s tough to really grapple with what that feels like.
I notice the energy too, when I take a beat and actually look around on the subway. Most times I, like a proper New Yorker, zone out and mind my own fucking business. Or pretend shit that’s happening isn’t happening because, really, ain’t no body got time for that. But when I really take a second to observe, I can’t help but be fascinated. What I notice is that I don’t know anyone around me, and yet seeing a thousand faces a day makes everyone seem slightly familiar. Not in a small town I-actually-know-you kind of way, but in a we’re-in-this-together sort of way. And what’s weird is that it’s like this unspoken agreement. None of us wants to talk or deal with each other - because people, am I right? - and yet (for the most part) we all just... do. And while we’re pretending the occasional asshole or crazy person isn’t doing what ever the hell it is they’re doing, we look at each other (but not too long, that’s weird) and give a collective shrug thinking, “New York, huh?”
Maybe this isn’t specific to New York. Maybe this is just what happens in big cities, and coming from a town with the same number of people as my block of Queens I just find this new and interesting. But maybe it is New York. And that possibility makes New York pretty fucking awesome to me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought this over. As a graduating speech for my public speaking class, I spoke on the concept of home. Looking back at it now, I feel some similar sensations as I did then. There’s a few excerpts I want to highlight specifically…
Home. Maybe you see your front door. Maybe your family. Maybe a favorite memory. You close your eyes, and you see it. But I see it with my eyes open.
This was the end of my opening segment of the speech, just before I dropped the main thesis. What I like about how I constructed this is that I tried and (assuming I’m not recalling my delivery through rose-colored glasses), successfully evoked this idea among my peers that the classroom we happened to be in is nowhere near their home. That for them, home is somewhere else. Probably somewhere they remember. But for me, it was right there, despite being from relatively far away.
See, at the time of graduation, I was grappling with choosing to stay in Rochester, or go somewhere else. I ultimately chose to stay, but this speech was about that internal struggle, and how I decided that Rochester might in fact be home:
For years now I’ve been wondering, what makes a place a home, and why? I wish I could stand here and tell you I have answers to those questions, but alas I’m still searching. And yet, I have placed a pretty big bet that it’s here in Rochester.
As the speech progressed, I revealed that what I was actually dealing with was trying to separate my affiliation for RIT (a place I do still very much love), with a sense of belonging in Rochester as a whole:
With each passing year, I found myself naturally referring to campus as “home.” I’d go back to Mom’s or Dad’s, and catch myself saying, “when I get home,” meaning, “when I return to campus.” I couldn’t help but feel like a young Harry Potter, who only felt at home when he was away at school.
After a little reflection on having made the decision to stay in Rochester, I moved on to lamenting a little:
We say a lot of things about home; it’s where the heart is, we make ourselves at it, but what is it, really? Is it always a place? Do we choose it? Does it change? And why? As our time here comes to an end, some of us are going home, some of us are off to find a new home, and I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving mine.
And if the speech ended there, you’d think the entire thing a sad affair. The overall tone of the speech is a bit sullen, but I close on a bit more optimistic note implying a sense of exploring the future:
In my time here, did RIT become my home, or did Rochester? When I step off this campus for the final time as a student, will I be going home, or leaving it? I still don’t know, but there’s only one way to find out.
I’ve been turning this over in my mind for two months: Has New York become my home, or is it all wrapped up in the relationship that brought me here? As I sat in a slight daze on the E train carrying me beneath the streets of New York, trying to get all of these thoughts out of my head and into this post, the parallels between how I felt three years ago, and how I’ve felt thinking this through recently became incredibly apparent.
When I was trying to decide if Rochester was home or if it was all wrapped up in RIT, the only conclusion I seemed to be able to make is that… it mostly didn’t matter. I leaned into not knowing. “There’s only one way to find out.” The closing statement to all my pondering was essentially that the only way is forward. To find out.
Maybe it’s the job. Maybe it’s the energy. Maybe it’s that I’m just too lazy to move all my shit again. What ever it is, this feels like home now. It’s amusing, in a way, to think that three years ago I thought Rochester was home. In a stroke of genius, I gave myself a caveat. I said I still didn’t know, but I would find out.
And in a life constantly rocked by change, maybe that’s the one constant. I’ll never know. But I’ll always find out.