where i was from

by s.

Everyone has something in their life that sits silently behind the scenes and shapes who they are. A lot of the time, this is another person, someone whose mere presence reminds you to keep moving. Sometimes it’s a career or a greater good or a hidden talent. Sometimes it’s beauty.

For me, that thing has always been a bit of a mystery. Most people would think it was probably a Bruce Springsteen record, or my academic career, or maybe a sandwich. I regard all of those things with a certain unhealthy amount of reverence. Lately, though, I am coming to recognize that it is likely something else entirely.

There have been a number of conversations had about New York and about love, both of which are complicated, complicated subjects. One of the well-documented requirements of being a New Yorker is a healthy dissatisfaction with the city itself. (A recent study points out that city dwellers are at a 21% higher risk for anxiety disorders and a 39% higher risk for mood disorders, which I guess helps explain some of that distress.) It is summer, though, which is the most glorious time to be in New York – and for me, the hardest. I find myself walking down sidewalks and using up all of my wishes in life hoping that they turn into rivers, into streams, into lakes. Bodies of water not occupied by hundreds of people: a thing that does not exist here. New York is complicated.

Love, also, is complicated, mostly because people walk around pretending that it isn’t because it is safer to believe you have found it than it is to be alone. This topic keeps filtering through our conversations, first in watching our friends’ relationships unfold before our eyes, and then because it is one of the things we ask each other when we check in on each other’s lives. I have begun to respond to questions about New York and questions about love in much the same fashion. Both answers lead to the joke about living alone in a cabin in the woods (which is really not a joke at all). There is a reason for this, and the reason is tangled up in the weedy ramble that constitutes my heart. I make jokes about lacking feelings; I make lists of places I would rather live than here; the answer to every question about this city and about my love is the look on my face that says I am about to run away.

Here is why:

This is where I grew up.

scanning pictures from my youth

This was my backyard.

This was my garden.

People, I think, are doorways that require unlocking, and it takes years to craft the set of keys that will do it. I may have just gone and handed you mine. They are covered in dirt and they are nostalgic as hell and there is a note scrawled on the keychain that says only this: “I need space.”