One of the first things I noticed when I moved to New York City was the way New Yorkers would make themselves at home anywhere. On the subway I observed riders eating dinner, taking a nap, applying makeup and even crying, as if the F Train was their living room. I witnessed people languidly sunbathing atop bleachers in the middle of Times Square with hundreds of tourists buzzing around. I marveled at how unselfconsciously people would setup camp in cafés to work or play games for hours, without ever seeming to wonder if they were overstaying their welcome.
You see, New Yorkers don’t just live in the city, they own their city. New York City apartments are quite often dumps, and always over-priced, but you don’t live there to live in your apartment, you live there to live in the city. Every piece of the city, from the subway to the parks and restaurants, is home to a New Yorker as much as or more than their apartment. Hence, they’re at home wherever they go.
I think this stood out to me so much because I had never felt such a sense of ownership anywhere. I had breezily moved around to various cities and countries not because I felt equally at home anywhere, but because I felt equally not-at-home everywhere. I could be charming and mirror accents, mannerisms and clothes so that I always seemed to fit in, but every time it felt like a walk-on role. I was a guest in every setting, never master of my domain. Even in my apartments I typically didn’t go to great lengths to make them my own, knowing in the back of my mind that I would be moving on soon enough, that I didn’t really belong there.
Perhaps this is one of the things that drew me to New York City. Seeing this juxtaposition of New Yorkers and myself may have helped push me to uproot my life in Denver and make the move to NYC a mere ten months after first visiting. After all, this was a place where one could go to belong.
Except not me. In New York, this place I felt such a connection to, the place that was going to finally make me feel at home, I still didn’t fit. I wasn’t a real New Yorker, I was a transplant, reeling from culture-shock and trying to figure out how anyone could feel at home here…