I just passed my 10-year mark living in New York City. Throughout an entire decade in this city, one thing was constant: Whenever I caught a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline — while jogging along the East River near my home in Astoria, Queens, or driving along the New Jersey Turnpike — I always got a giddy shiver down my spine.
For as long as I could remember, this was the place of my dreams. The place I fantasized about moving when I felt stuck as a kid in my small, Midwestern hometown. That is where writers live, I knew. Where people were direct, brash even, just like me. It took me a few years of adulthood to get up the nerve to move here — until I had the comfort of a boyfriend to join me. We moved here with no jobs and little money. My writing career took off. I joined friends at fabulous restaurants. It was easy to network — everyone who could help me in my career was here. This, finally, was home. I was 26 years old.
Today my life looks entirely different. That boyfriend became a husband, father of our two children and now an ex. I achieved my dream of being a writer in New York, but instead of a Dorothy Parker-esque existence, I spend my days in a sunny home office that doubles as my bedroom, overlooking a playground we frequent almost daily.
My children are ages 3 and 5, and maybe because it is universally true, or just because I am projecting my own childhood experience, I worry my children need a place to run. Green lawns and trees to climb. They don’t have that here. They are city kids.
And yet I don’t relocate to any of the lovely suburbs in New Jersey, Westchester County or Connecticut. I stay in Astoria, Queens, because it is my home. Our home.
When I feel my cheeks burn with fury at the litter blowing through the streets of this neighborhood or put in my ear plugs at night to block out the sirens, café chatter and horns outside, I am calmed by the comfort of the community I’ve amassed here.
My building alone — a 1926 six-storey co-op with about 90 units — is home to dozens of neighbors, ranging in age from chipper-if-struggling musicians in their twenties to the gorgeous Cuban sisters in their eighties who share a one bedroom on the second floor.
Some of these people have come to be close friends and confidants, there as neighbors are — through the joys of new babies and the horrors of family tragedy, sometimes bringing by bottles of wine or wrapped gifts for the kids. It is no small thing to go to sleep — blocking out the kooky upstairs neighbor’s stomping — knowing that should one of the kids awaken with a scary fever and need to be rushed to the hospital, there are countless doors on which I could knock.
This sense of community is what humans crave, but that pull is stronger in cities. I find there are so many people here who, like me, come from someplace else. Other states and towns. Other countries. Their ties to those places have been loosened by distance and time. So we make communities and connections with those who are in close proximity.