My husband and I met in New York City. For that reason, and for many others, I’ll always value my time there. But I was raised on 100 acres of field and forest, and the country is in my blood. It’s where I am my best self.
For a year in our twenties, my husband and I moved back to our respective homes to save money and figure some twenty-something shit out. His parents live in Tribeca. My parents live in Ashburnham, Ma. Population of New York City: 8.406 million. Population of Ashburnham: 6,081. Our childhoods were a wee bit different. “Living at home” as adults was also a wee bit different.
During this year of Scrabble games with mom and solitary walks through twisted paths of maple and pine, I drove to the city roughly once a month or so to see Brett, who spent his year at home going to ironic speakeasies, seeing artsy movies whenever he wanted, eating creatively clustered plates of foraged ferns and gnocchi, and generally living a pleasant urban existence.
I grew accustomed to the tensing of my body as I left the leafy highways of Massachusetts and Connecticut and joined the throngs of people driving over the Triboro Bridge. Upon reaching the city, I always experienced a little adjustment vertigo, but after an hour or two, I was back in New York, the land of cheap deli flowers, time-efficient pedicures, and so many options for delicious food it makes me almost panic over meal decisions.
It’s been almost a decade since those frequent visits, and since my residence in Astoria and the Upper West Side. In the interim, I’ve become more tethered to the green. I’ve spent seven years growing alongside the birches and lilacs in my own two-acre patch of home. The city becomes less and less appealing with each new perennial I plant, lovingly cushioning the peonies and succulents and spring bulbs into their soft earthen beds. The culture shock when in NYC has become more intense
But one of my favorites still lives in Brooklyn, so when Steph had her first baby, I packed up a casserole and a bottle of wine, and equipped my car with several granola bars. This country mouse was going a-visiting.
As I approached the city, I experienced the familiar tensing of my muscles, but this time, the anxiety threatened to consume me, and made me wonder if I was going to ever get out of this labyrinthine system of entrances and exits. Sweating and gritting my teeth, I followed the twists and turns through miles of gray, dirty noise. I’m always shocked anew at the huge expanse of ugliness that surrounds the crown jewel of America’s cities. The snakelike highways feeding into each other, the smoke, the smog, the cement, the dingy housing, the constant construction.
Like some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Every atom in my body told me to flee, told me that this wasteland of dust and grit and trash wasn’t a viable habitat for humans. Go back to New Hampshire, my instinct shouted. Live free [and by free I mean free from all of this shit] or die! Go forth to the forests and flourish!
As I left the frightening tangle of expressways and routes and overpasses, and steered my little blue Subaru (I even felt bad for subjecting my provincial station wagon to the sinister city – surely she’d miss her cozy garage and be scared sleeping on the grimy street?), into the more manageable world of street names, I relaxed my white-knuckled grip on the wheel for a mere second before violent screams sent adrenalin coursing into my chest. I locked my doors, squinted past the Hassidic men flocked together at a traffic light, and looked for the source of the yelling. The noise advanced, and finally a wiry young man with dirty hair biked by my window, screaming into a megaphone about car pollution.
I couldn’t help but agree with his sentiments if not his methods.
Welcome to New York.
As an undergrad in Boston fresh from the country, I still remember the sheer terror of walking alone across the Boston Public Garden for the very first time. In broad daylight. Was I scared a mom from Beacon Hill might attack me with her Lily Pulitzer cardigan or her Kate Spade purse? I had been in Boston for a couple weeks, and for my first solo walk, I donned a bulky sweatshirt in the 80-degree sunshine, fearful of showcasing my vulnerable body to the rapists lurking behind the swanboats.
In Brooklyn, I parked my car, wistfully flipping the mirrors against the blue of my sweet, trusty Subaru.
By the end of my two days with Steph, I was no longer afraid of every stranger on the street, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being trapped, of being forced to interact with a person at every corner of the day. Hello to the neighbor in the elevator. Hello to the parking garage attendant. Smile and nod at other smilers and nodders.
There are just too many people. Not enough chickadees. Access to the very best artisanal doughnuts, yes. But claustrophobic as all hell.