I sit down at my desk to write, as I’ve done millions of times before. But today is different; I am different. No longer am I stuck in the grey stillness of my hometown, a town that is unsettling silent and slow. I left that place six weeks ago and already it’s hard for me to remember it. Since arriving in New York I’ve conquered the bustling subway commutes to and from work, I’ve learned how to be patient with people even when I find them intolerable, and I’ve lost love—although it was probably never mine to have. I didn’t step into the city and automatically feel at home or even that I had made the right decision by moving here. Rather, I felt afraid and overwhelmed and about a million other emotions connected to fear and regret.
I was welcomed to New York in a number of ways by many different people. I was greeted by my best friend and her bright smile, by my cousin with a loud laugh and long drag from a shared cigarette, by a broken window and a hole in my wall, a blizzard and frozen pipes, and finally with a whisper between the sheets in broken English. I never made any big declarative statement congratulating myself on stampeding towards my dreams—because that’s not what it feels like. It feels more like moving from a passionate affair right into a marriage. You’re in love, but you also had no idea what you were getting yourself into.
Sometimes in Brooklyn you can see the stars, they begin to show themselves just after 7:30PM and hang low over the park that sits caddy corner to my building. Sometimes at night I would stand on my back porch in Columbus and count them. Too often the trees or the orange glow of the city would block my view, but on a clear winter night I could still see them. It’s these little pieces that help keep me connected to my old life and give me comfort when I’m feeling lost or alone. It’s easy to feel that way here, regardless of the fact that I am usually actually lost.
The people are different too. They shuffle into the subways in herds with their headphones in and heads down. They all stand in close union with one another but are still alone in a world all their own. I watch them, and they watch me. We study each other silently as if there were glass in between us. The people move fast here. They push, run, and shove to get where they’re going, but they’ll also stop everything to answer a question or to point a stranger in the right direction. This is a characteristic of New Yorkers that I find particularly endearing.
The boys here are different too, I won’t call them men because most of them haven’t gotten that far. You have your wealthy ones, the son or grandson of someone who once mattered, but now all that is left is a handsome trust fund and a few entitled brats nursing from it. You have your poor ones; the ones who know how to work but grew up in a place so different from yours it might as well have been another world entirely. There are some that are fast and aggressive, born and raised in Queens or Staten Island or Harlem. They’ll kiss you hard, in the middle of a sentence without questioning it. Or, there are transplants who make jokes across the table in English so broken you can’t help but kiss them back, because you’re different too and you know what it feels like to be homesick.
I feel like I’ve brought little with me that was mine. One thing I made sure to bring was a portrait of my grandmother. I made my dad claim it for me in those few strange months between the death of my grandfather and selling his house. In the portrait, my grandmother is wearing a pale pink sweater with a white collared shirt underneath. In small letters in the lower left corner it reads, Captuto, Italia 1965. I assume she must have been in Italy when it was painted, but I don’t know and I never felt the need to ask. I like keeping her a mystery. Once when the howling winds slammed so hard into my building that my window broke I cried to her and asked for help. I knew she couldn’t here me but I figured it was worth a try, at least until my landlord could come and fix it.
Sometimes I yearn for the quiet stillness of home, or the small luxury of a personal washing machine, a car, or a bedroom wall without a gapping hole in it, plugged up carelessly with pink insulation and Styrofoam. But I also know that by spring I will have forgotten what easy living was like. The biggest change has been within myself. Looking in the mirror, my mirror, in a room that I recently inhabited, with things that are mine or aren’t mine, wearing clothes that are new, and thinking with a mind that is constantly changing makes it difficult to recognize myself. I like the girl looking back, I just don’t really know her yet—but I will in time.