How to Fall In Love With Your Hometown
Growing up in Westchester County, there was nothing I wanted more than to abandon my boring suburban life and move to a big city. Living just 40 minutes away from Manhattan, something that may come as a shock to city kids who call anywhere North of upper Manhattan “upstate,” I decided at a young age that I would make my life in the city and never look back at New Rochelle, the city I had inhabited my whole life.
I got to live my city living dream for 3 years, and it was everything I wanted it to be. In my time living in my Kips Bay dorm, I felt the beautiful breezes of the East River as I jogged along its path, I was able to walk almost anywhere that was worth going, I made peace with the cockroaches and ghosts that inhabited my old, probably haunted building, and I lived near several dollar pizza places. The world truly felt like my oyster as I lived in Manhattan as a student, without feeling the crippling weight of real-person debt.
This May, I moved out of my dorm to return home to New Rochelle. With the move came a big transition, as I went from being able to walk around my thriving neighborhood at any time I wanted to find a knish and having easy to access to anything I wanted to do, to having to call my parents for a ride home from the Metro North train station and walking 40 minutes to get to the nearest Starbucks. Thinking about this inevitable move used to move me to tears, as I feared that I was regressing by moving home. I thought of the nervous, reclusive high schooler that hung her head walking home from school and feared that I would become that person again.
Despite my fears, I’ve been determined to retain as much as my city life as possible. Adamant to maintain my brief and inconsistent running career, I’ve begun running around my new old neighborhood. As I walk to my chosen running spot, an expansive lake that surrounds my high school,a place I have returned to only when necessary since graduating, memories of my childhood flood my mind. The route to the lake traces my old trick-or-treating route, which I followed each October with a friend, while our moms gathered at my home, drinking white wine and handing out candy on our porch. I remember how Melanie and I used to attempt a different accent at each house we went to, giggling wildly at the thought that my neighbors might believe we became spontaneously British.
Further in the walk, I pass my old church. It was this church, Holy Family, where I attended both Sunday School and CYO Basketball practices, a time when I feigned Catholicism and athleticism for years and years. I notice that the streets are quiet and lush with greenery. Front yards are abundant in Hyacinth and lavender this time of the year, something you see seldom see in New York City. As I walk with my headphones in, I adjust to the quiet of the streets, turning down the volume as there’s nothing to drown out besides my own memories.
Someone I knew vaguely in high school passes by me in a car and yells a greeting out of the window. In high school, my greatest fear was seeing people I went to school with in public.
Should I say hi? What if they didn’t say hi back? I know, I’ll just untangle my headphones for a while to look busy.
Now, however, running into acquaintances from high schools is a welcome surprise. We’ve gotten past the awkward insecurity we all collectively felt and can politely ask how college is going and talk about how our high school has gone downhill in recent years.
I get to the lake and start my clumsy jogging, avoiding the geese that once attacked my dad during a run. I notice the lake’s beauty, as I’m old enough now not to fear running into anyone I know who may been skipping class to smoke weed at the lake, which stands just 15 feet away from campus. While running, I think about how much has changed. The diner on North Avenue that my friends and I went to no less than 200 times in my lifetime is closed now. Where do the high school kids go after football games or school plays? I think about the recent wave of newsworthy violence at my high school, and how the relative freedom I enjoyed as a student must no longer exist. My friend told me recently that our old math teacher died, but neither of us could remember her name. Things have surely changed.
I realize that I have changed too, and my relationship to my city has changed as well. My three years in the city have translated to three years of unconscious growth. This kind of growth is born from the unexpected strength you find in yourself while yelling at the man who groped you across from Bellvue Hospital, the confidence you’ve developed from going on Tinder dates, the friendships you’ve let go, the ones you’ve made, and the ones you’ve maintained and strengthened. I smile as I walk home from the run, stopping to talk to my neighbors and remembering that I have to soften my don’t-mess-with-me expression. Walking slowly across the pavement, I look at my town with fresh eyes. It’s a new beginning in a familiar setting. I can’t wait to see what I learn about myself and my home.