The city of New York City exists strongly. Within New York, the smallest sounds are amplified as they break through the barriers of thin drywall. The coastal weather can be bitter, biting and unforgiving and still, the easiest way to get around New York is by foot and, in effect, immersed in the unchangeable climate. Even the most basic interactions occur more frequently in New York and tailing behind them are the trivial and yet infuriating conflicts that complicate daily life. The minutiae of life is a swift dagger, taking whole days hostage at the hand of an unfriendly DMV employee – I once broke down sobbing at the DMV on 34th street in Manhattan after an employee had repeatedly accused me of forging a signature for my vehicle registration all afternoon. She pointed out an apparent discrepancy in the loop of the letter ‘D’ and called me a liar, and then eventually said something mean about my mother. I didn’t move away from New York because of her, of course. I moved away because of all of it. I was tired of fighting for my own oxygen; I was tired of fighting battles I felt never should have been started to begin with – even if the battle was as trite as My Long Skirt vs. The Torrential Downpour.
The idea that other people in other cities, albeit smaller cities, were enjoying more fulfilling lives had been haunting me. A fantasy had been unraveling in my head for years of the yard and hammock and dog I could have in another city and I couldn’t shake it. Other people were paying less in rent. Other people had sunshine most days of the year while my core was being whittled away by “The Best City In The World.” Learning about H.A.A.M. in Austin, Texas, a healthcare program that provides medical services to area musicians, was the last straw for me. On top of all other New York stresses, I was playing the freelancer-without-healthcare lottery. I packed up my 1996 Honda Accord and drove south for four days, finally landing in Austin, Texas.
%Gallery-169276%I promptly moved into a charming three-bedroom house with an expansive, private back yard. I signed up for H.A.A.M. and began going to the doctor, dentist, chiropractor and therapist. I made a lot of friends and got married. I became the proud mother of two dogs and I took them hiking and swimming regularly. I overdosed on Vitamin D during the day and saw a lot of live music at night. I paid less for just about everything and saved my money. But despite having tackled and conquered so many goals that I felt would guide me toward truer happiness, I’d been battling an internal war since the moment I arrived.
Optimism blanketed my experience in Austin at first. I was living the life I had told myself I wanted and, even if I had to lie through my grinding teeth, I was determined to enjoy it. Despite my greatest efforts, something was missing. I could say that the “something” was this or that, that it was the electricity, anonymity, intensity, creativity or autonomy, but these are all subjective qualifiers, containing as much falsehood as truth. What I was really missing while living in Austin was much more basic and primal than any intellectual or abstract rendering of what a city like New York does or doesn’t offer. What I missed most was what I’d left behind – the chaos, the conversation, the cold chill of winter and the relationships forged under such conditions. What I was missing was my home.
Although I didn’t grow up in New York, it was the only home I had ever known. I was naive and young when I first arrived at age 18 and the city had powerfully shaped me. I hated it and loved it, like most New Yorkers, but I identified with its insanity and pulse – I felt as though the city and I were moving at the same pace, quickly and manically approaching each day. With each new street corner that staged a lifelong memory, my psyche had become more entangled with New York, and thus, less separable than I’d ever realized before living someplace else. But this seemed incongruous to me with my insatiable longing for new scenery, with my work as a travel writer. If I couldn’t easily pull down a new backdrop with a new landscape and a new context and carry on without missing a beat, then what business did I have feigning an adventurous spirit? But now that I’m living in New York again, with a yard and hammock and dogs no less, I recall the words of a friend’s father when he learned that I wanted to leave the city a year before I actually did.
“Everyone needs a home. You leave, you travel, you learn, but home is the place you come back to.”
At the time, I dismissed his words because home is supposed to be where the heart is and I believed my heart was everywhere. What I didn’t account for were the tiers of the heart; the difference between the comforting core and the fleeting nature of curiosity. The stakes and circumstances are different for everyone, but one thing is certain: nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the warm inner swell of, for better or for worse, getting back to where you once belonged.
[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]