I was scrolling through Facebook photos the other day when I noticed one of me in Southeast Asia–on a beach, overlooking a rice paddy, something suitably exotic–and noticed that a friend of mine commented: “You don’t belong in Sacramento.”
Reading it now, it strikes me in a strange way: if I don’t belong in the city that I grew up in, the city that shaped me into who I am, the city whose highway curves and one-way streets and rose gardens I know better than anywhere else–then where do I belong?
I love New York City. Nowhere else is there such a concentration of awesome and interesting people, the experience of all my senses and my intellect being constantly engaged and challenged. I can pick out a dozen moments a day of pure, simple joy: a daffodil blooming, a man singing, craning my neck upward to see the skyscapers jutting into the clouds. It is a city that requires a certain energy and ambition: you can’t survive here simply by being, you must constantly be doing. The flurry of activities and variety suits me and my short attention span, my inability to commit.
Yet I yearn for the ease of Australia, the laid-back grins and lazy accent and coastal breeze. In quiet moments, my mind flashes to morning runs along St Kilda beach, reading the newspaper and sipping an expertly-poured latte in a sunny window, rowdy Sunday sessions and a near obsession with AFL ladders.
I think about how I could afford months of street cart eats and beachside accommodation and sticky sweet Vietnamese coffee for what I pay in a month’s rent–heck, what I pay in a month’s utility payment. I daydream about days spent rock climbing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, writing in the evening. The constant buzz of a language I don’t understand, the universal meaning of a smile or a kind gesture.
Lately, I’ve been more and more drawn to the possibility of creating a life in California. I miss the geography: the snow-covered mountains, the orchards as far as the eye can see, the calm rush of the river and the break of the ocean. There’s family and there’s the familiarity: I feel like I’ve spent the past few years wandering around the globe and asking is this normal? as the sun blazes in January or thunder strikes in the afternoon. I’m unaccustomed to wild temperature fluctuations, freezing cold, soul-crushing humidity. I know cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers and the flash of red leaves and pink blooms in between.
I’ve wondered if my heart is in San Francisco–and if not, if I’m searching the world for “the perfect place” all while quietly knowing that my happiness lies within. It’s something that still worries me, that still makes me question where I belong or whether I’ll ever be able to fully commit without constantly edging forward or wondering about what-if. How long do I have to be somewhere before I can belong there: before I could fold myself back into the town where people rarely come or leave, before I could call myself a New Yorker?
This isn’t to say I’m leaving New York anytime soon–I committed, remember–or even where I’ll be going next. I honestly don’t know. But that one little offhand comment has unnerved me, made me wonder when and if and how we can belong anywhere. Is it the place that needs us or we who need the place?
Do you think we can “belong” anywhere?