New York is alive. It breathes, it screams, it smacks you in the face and then caresses your cheek in the same instant. It’s beautiful in all its ugliness. I love it. It is my Home.
I grew up in Brooklyn, playing games on Brownstone stoops and darting in and out of water streaming from fire hydrants. I thought I would live there forever. I went to college in Pennsylvania but always returned to my city over the summers and holidays. It was too quiet out there. I missed the cacophonous symphony of the city. After graduation, I moved to Queens for a year. Grimy streets, sketchy avenues, but freedom, since it was my first apartment. Then I moved to Harlem for a summer. I was finally living in Manhattan, inhaling the air that smelled of exhaust, roasted nuts, and salt.
But Brooklyn wasn’t done with me. I returned home in the fall and went back to my old bedroom in my parent’s house. The house sighed and seemed to fold itself back over me, holding me tight, certain it wasn’t going to let me go away again. And for a while, it looked like that was true.
I have roots in New York. Not just the city, but upstate as well. Growing up, we would go to Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondacks every year. We would go to Saratoga Springs, to my namesake racetrack, that was only half an hour away. That place became my Soul. The lake was a friend, a constant companion. It felt like an origin story, even though I hadn’t been born there. In some ways though, I was. The very few times in my life that I have ever been truly happy were at Sacandaga.
Every part of my being was proud to be a New Yorker. Every part of me was content to stay and remain there, lost in the shuffle of millions of people. Those roots I had were deep. My family, my friends, my life, was all there. So what can uproot a tree that is resolute and unbending?
The thing about trees is that they don’t move. So they see the same things every day, they watch the seasons pass and start recognizing patterns. And although they get older, lose some leaves, grow some branches, they don’t change. They never will change, because they are stuck in their routine, trapped by the same roots that they themselves put down. I wasn’t changing. I wasn’t growing. I was still in Brooklyn, in my childhood home. I wasn’t trying to advance my career. I was going to the same bars, the same restaurants. I had no interest in meeting new people. I was content to stay by the side of someone who didn’t value me. My roots were filled with love for New York. But New York didn’t always love me.
So when a series of events led to me visiting Wisconsin for the first time almost a year ago, I think I was already subconsciously primed for a transition. I was ready to move on. I was ready to start my life for real. I fell in love with New York slowly, over many, many years; I was born there and it was my hometown. New York was comfortable and easy, my first love. In contrast, I fell for Wisconsin almost instantly. It was different, but not scary, it made me feel safe, it made me feel like I could actually achieve the goals I was realizing I wanted to accomplish. I loved it, and it loved me back. It was time for a new chapter.
So I moved for it. Not immediately, because I was scared. I was so thoroughly ensnared in New York’s loudness, its fervor, its tangled heart. But if there’s one thing that can move a tree, it’s love. So I wrenched myself from the ground and left, knowing deep down that I would most likely be back, but not for a while. I moved to Milwaukee, surrounded by water, clean-smelling air, and rabbits that roamed the streets like rats do in New York.
Then came the kicker: Wisconsin was not as kind to me as I had thought it would be. They say that sometimes you need to be thoroughly broken down so you can be built back up. If that was Wisconsin’s intention, it did a good job with the breaking aspect. It shattered my bones and brains and body before I could even attempt to put some small, tentative roots in the ground. But while Wisconsin itself was cruel and heartless, Milwaukee tried its best. It cleared a patch of dry, cracked earth for me. It gave me a rusty watering can. It wasn’t much but it was the effort, the thought, that was appreciated.
My roots now are feeble and thin. They are shaky and pale. But they’re not dead. My tree was struck by lightening but I am still growing. I just need to grow around the scar. And the thing is, I am not stuck anymore. Even though my roots are no longer strong and powerful, I’m also not watching my life zip by without actually effecting any change upon it. I still love New York. I will return there someday. I left seeds there, so that when I do come back, I can plant myself again but anew; able to start from the beginning.
But for now, I remain here, and I wait for my leaves to grow back.