I haven’t written in months, maybe almost two years looking at the last one post I made. I want to delete it because I feel it’s not written by the same person I am now. I don’t look the same, I don’t think the same, but maybe that’s important to remember. As I begin writing this, I have lived in New York City for seven days, one hour, fifty-six minutes and twenty-seven seconds. Last night was the first alone in my 342 square foot apartment. I have found myself 456 miles from home. Meg Ryan’s voice in When Harry Met Sally and a cooling fan are acting as my background noise for the moment — in addition to brakes and horns and construction workers’ yells from the window, that is. The combination is about all I can stomach yet.
I haven’t been able to play any records because I haven’t been able to so much as sort through them without the memories they uncover. The smell of a circa-1971 Honey Cone album cover sparks memories of the dim lighting as I sat cross-legged on a man’s mother’s living room floor in mid-November — the Japanese writing on a karaoke album invokes the same. Dark Side of the Moon’s art brings me back to the taste of cheap tequila on my breath in the parking lot of a local bar where my favorite hand-me-down original was given to me the week before Christmas. The sound of The Carpenters rings like my mother’s voice above me as I sat in the bathtub as a child. Any Grateful Dead song tastes like my favorite drink at the coffee shop I frequented and worked at for solidarity, gossip, and comfort. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours feels like my rough steering wheel at three in the morning, on my way east or west down the island I called home. These albums smell, look, feel, taste, and sound like my hometown.
Those albums are painted in sand and saltwater; in the thick humidity of July and crisp, dry oceanfront winds of February. Everything is. The beer I’m drinking as I write this is an ode to my birthday a few months ago and to my beer snob of a friend whom I send a picture every time I have one. The watch I’m wearing is the same one that notoriously always slipped to the underside of my wrist, just for the guy I was seeing to get annoyed and flip it around. Most of my books were read within the walls of my high school or the restaurant where I worked for two years and made some of the best friends and memories. Everything that is new is cold. A new bed, a new table, new keys without the burden of my genuinely awful 2004 forest green Ford Explorer. If I close my eyes and sit on my couch covered in my favorite blanket, things are old. I am home. My feet on the wood floor here still feels like the wood floor of my family’s home. So many things are the same, but everything is different.
My lips are already chapped and my skin dry from the change in air. The dry air here is taking its toll, physically and emotionally. I deny it all I can, and I may have a “Yankee” mind, but I have a small beach town heart. As much as I hate it. I “adapt well to ever-changing environments,” I mean, it says so on my resume. I suppose that calls for an apology to every business I’ve ever applied to because the claim is proving not to be true. All I want now, all I’ve wanted for days, is to be home. My emotions temper when I feel like I’m just on vacation here, in a hotel room thinking about how much I’d love to live in this city I’ve always longed for. The thought “I don’t know what’s changed” keeps crossing my mind, but that’s not true, I do know, I changed. Always thinking I needed more to be happy, needed something different. At what point I realized it, I’m not sure, but somewhere along the way I saw I was content. Maybe what I always dreamed isn’t what I’m still dreaming.
I cried a lot today. I've cooked three times now and have yet to be able to eat anything. Last night I made chicken and cooked it to the point it was bone dry; the meat thermometer never reached 165. I ended up not eating it. A few minutes ago, I tried to make a sandwich but nothing about it was right. Fairway doesn't carry the unhealthy, yellow labeled bread I've eaten on every homemade sandwich of my conscious live, the deli doesn't carry the right turkey, the cheese was something obscure and English, and you can bet your ass you won't find Duke's Mayonnaise in Manhattan. Nothing feels right. Nothing feels like home. There's suddenly a sense of longing in me to rush to Food Lion before ten at night and see three people I know before I get in the door. I'm longing for an island that comfortably holds less than four thousand people. God, do I want to see stars.
In an essay I wrote a few months ago, I pointed to the year taken to stay home as what made me appreciate Emerald Isle. But I never knew the things about it that I would miss. I miss sitting on someone’s front porch with the door to the house open while we drink margaritas. I miss driving home past nine at night in the winter and not passing a soul. I miss stopping by work just to tell everyone hi. I miss bonfires and beer in a friend’s backyard and passing every police officer in town on the way home. I miss the way the air catches your breath at the end of a dock in any month past November. I want to be on the beach when the sun rises and the fishermen move in front of the run-down convenience store to the front of the tide. I want to sit in the “Bluewater Chair” and geocache and laugh with my friends. I want to honk at my people I know running, biking, driving down the street. I want to drive past the bar after work and know if my friends are there by scoping out the cars in the parking lot. I want to breathe. I want to take a full breath, and I haven’t since I left my home.
More than one person has told me, "You'll do great things here." It's not that I don't appreciate that sentiment, but I also resent it. I can do great things wherever I am. Finally I have realized I affect my own future, not my environmental factors. I recently told someone in New York, you feel on top of the world and completely anonymous at the same time. But I'm not sure I want to be either of those things. I think I just want to exist for a while, without $2400 rent, without delayed trains, without 24-hour sushi delivery. New York is all-encompassing, "it belongs as much to a person in one day as it does in a lifetime." Sometimes I believe that, but sometimes, I feel like it's a tool to manipulate me into feeling smaller, bringing me down to size. I smile to myself when my phone dies and I can still get crosstown on the subway without directions, but I also never feel quite as alone as I do sitting and blankly staring at my reflection on the train's windows at night for the forty minute trip home. I hate its dingy white tile hallways until they take me to the Brooklyn Bridge and I can look at the city from the outside for a few minutes to feel okay. But I brought my neighbor something I baked today and she seemed put-off. I asked the cashier how he was and was ignored. No one in the grocery store told me I look exactly like my mom thirty years ago. "You'll be jaded soon enough," isn't quite said with a warning or laugh. I used to aim to be jaded, I wanted to be just like what I thought a New Yorker should be, but now I'm here and I've realized the South permeated my tough skin more than I'd hoped. I want to be amazed by beautiful things and I want to get excited when I see a TV show being filmed and I don't want to feel like I have to act cool all the time.
Henry David Thoreau said, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I want to live deep and I can’t do it here. Maybe it’s that October and November are my favorite months on the beach. They’re quiet, cool, the most calming state, and some of my best memories are from just after the air got cool. My fear to go home at this point is because I feel that constitutes failure. But especially as I wrote this, I realized there’s no failure in figuring out what I want. I want to live for my happiness instead of living for an idea of a lifestyle I’ve conjured as being the same thing as happiness. I don’t know when I’ll be home, but I’ll be back. New York is a dream I conquered, even if in the simplest sense of getting a key in the door. Part of me still thinks this is proving right the people who thought I couldn’t do it, who smiled knowingly at me and jeered “you’ll be back,” but they’re wrong. The person I was a year ago wouldn’t have been back, but I’m glad to not be that person anymore. I’ll admit I’m proud of myself for getting here. But I may be more proud of myself for swallowing my pride and fear of failure and following my path wherever it takes me. Or takes me back to.