Every time I leave, it’s more difficult.
I have said this many times lately, but it seems I’ll always be asked again so I might as well make a public statement that may ultimately be interpreted as unpopular. No, I am not entirely jazzed to be living in New York. Yes, I appreciate that my Brooklyn life, on paper, and often times in practice, is fantastic—lots of friends and guests and I’m in a wonderful MFA program and we’ve begun a writers’ group and I’m making more art than ever and I love our apartment and I like our neighborhood, and biking around the city has been really engaging for me and I have a great art job with an artist I admire and there are many incredible cultural events and activities and we all know how I enjoy a museum.
However. There is a big part of returning that always makes me feel sick.
It wasn’t always this way. The first several months of living in Brooklyn, I felt energized by its vibrance in a way that is similar to being drunk in that early part of the evening when your friends start coming over but they’re not all there yet. However, there was a moment when we left for Christmas, when I drove down to Jake’s family’s house in southern Maryland, when we canoed by moonlight behind his family’s house with his The Best Dog in the World, that we both began to feel empty. The water icy, the moon full, our discussion lonely. We returned a week later with heavy heads, and since then, leaving has been easy but returning more difficult. This, of course, is part of why Jake has been living in Huntingdon, and on my numerous short trips to visit him this summer, I have come to appreciate our old home, our true home, all the more.
I am writing this on the bus, sitting backwards and watching the western part of the state disappear behind us. As we drive, Pennsylvania reveals its greenery, the snaking roads and warm, deep earth available only from window view until next time.
Even in Huntingdon’s midst in the five years I lived there, I understood that it was an incredible place, different from others. I could never take it for granted. Leaving even for the weekend and returning, watching the town appear between the mountains was thrilling. Its curious hold over me is not an isolated incident—talk to any of us. (I may just feel things more strongly because we all know I am sensitive and imbue lots of things with meaning, etc.) It’s home, my true home, the location of all of my weird young adult coming of age type squashy girl experiences, and each block, each corner of sidewalk, each piece of riverbank, every chair and table hold meaning for me, and I am reminded of Toni Morrison’s concept of rememory, something I recently told The Camera Coon as we, laughing, hurtled toward Huntingdon on a drive I’ve done dozens of times and even the route placed me firmly in the place of memory, and I realized that I wrote a poem about that moon on that drive at that time of night.
This is not to say that my love for Huntingdon and its outlying areas is based solely in a feeling of comfort, though this is certainly part of the equation. It’s that I believe in towns like this. I have seen the vibrant efforts of certain people, particular individuals who have single handedly changed the face of the community. I believe in business owners and community organizers like Tony and Paula Seguin, Evan Gross, Greg and Jessie Anderson, Pam Kavanaugh and James Pingry, Phil Miller, and all of the Aughwicks. My life and worldview has been forever changed because of local heroes like these people, and the fabric of the community is richer as a result.
Everyone is kind, people say hello, you can leave the door open and no one will take your stuff. Your friends are your neighbors, the coffee you drink at the bar is roasted uptown, the bike rack you’re using was lobbied for by an advocate downtown, the lettuce you’re eating was grown in a cool valley over the ridge. No, this is not a state of being that is unusual, especially as life goes on and we admire the local and so forth. But in Huntingdon, this exists in strange and wonderful symbiosis with the weird, the small town grotesque. The pugs on the couch in the back alley, the constant renovation of Matt’s facade, the Looker, the Guy With The Dog, the Hex-Giver, the parakeets behind the garage, Sheetz after midnight.
Friends visited while we still lived there, sometime last May, and they left on a lazy Sunday afternoon. They lamented the necessity of their leaving, and commented on the preciousness of a meandering Sunday in Huntingdon, a slow morning, no stores open, wasting the day pleasantly with the productivity of the week on the landscape. It is a feeling that does not go away. I am learning this, feeling old now, wistfully looking at the life behind me and feeling that I should figure out some way to make it the life in front of me.
People go to bed earlier there.
I am feeling unhealthy in New York: its geography and scale and haze and the way people look at you in bars does not agree with me. I miss the smell of the river, the sound of the train, the curve of town, seeing the edge, drinking coffee on the stoop. I am homesick. But not in the way where you’re a sniveling child at summer camp and you want to opt out, you want your mom to pick you up. I am homesick because I feel so profoundly, because I believe so ardently in the town that has become mine. I believe in its streets and trees and people, and I wish to reacquaint myself with what can only be called its magic. Have you seen the wizard window display?
The sky covers all of us, and I am looking west.