So I have returned to Manhattan for the first time since embarking on this whole Santa Barbarian journey. It’s raining. The rain here is even more dismal than the rain on the West Coast (though, I will admit, Time Warner’s ability to keep the internet from slowing to an absolute crawl despite the miracle of water from the heavens is something Resnet might like to look into emulating). But at least in California, the clouds are pretty and the mountains look all Lord-of-the-Rings-y in the mist, if you ignore the palm trees and villas where the Gap of Rohan should be (consider any and all jokes about there not being a Gap in Rohan, not even an Old Navy, to be made). Here, we just get dark and wet, with a side order of gloom.
This made our approach into JFK interesting, since the view out the window was a uniform light gray, rather like someone was flying on ahead of us with a dry ice machine. By the time I looked out the window to see how close we were to the ground, we were on it. There was no jolt of familiarity (or of landing–kudos to the pilot), no sudden feeling of “oh, I’m home,” which was odd. Over the course of my life, I have traveled many times, often to the same destination though occasionally elsewhere and, upon my re-entering JFK, or sometimes La Guardia, I have felt something I never thought much about; a sense that I had been away and was now back at home base. I was home. It wasn’t a sense of belonging, but the feeling of being on a tether and, for all that I could roam as far afield as I would like, I would always come back to New York eventually. It was where I was nailed down.
When the wheels of that 767 hit the ground today, I felt nothing. Oh, I felt the usual relief that, once again, we’d tricked gravity long enough for us to reach our destination safely. (I am aware that there is some fairly complicated physics behind flight, physics that is consonant with our understanding of the laws of the universe, but the common sense area of my brain remains convinced that planes work rather like Wile E. Coyote in a Warner Bother’s Cartoon–just don’t look down and realize that you’re in the air and you won’t fall). But I didn’t feel like I’d come home. Wherever that tether was nailed down, it wasn’t here.
Which is not to say that aspects of New York will not always have the feel of home for me. My parent’s house, the house I grew up in, will always be a kind of “home” irrespective of how many years it has been since I actually lived there. I do not look forward to the sudden but inevitable betrayal of losing it, when they finally decide to move, because one’s childhood home is always there to be returned to, at least in one’s mind. (Good Lord, I really have been reading too much Proust.)
And, of course, there’s another sense to the idea of “home” that looks at questions of security, comfort, warmth and whatever else it is people try to convey when they talk about it as the place “where the heart is”.
I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the location on a map where you point when someone says “So where’s home?” That used to be New York for me. I’ve always known that, regardless of how long I was sojourning elsewhere, I would be back. That’s no longer true. I no longer have that absolute certainty that I will, one day, be a resident of this city again. I may come back, which would be nice, or I may not, which would be a different kind of nice. But, while I may be back in New York, I’ve lost the feeling of coming back to it.
I believe this is yet another part of what is known, perhaps inaccurately, as growing up. And it is a good thing that I can go forward without always feeling as though I must fight to come back. But the view out my window looks strange. I know the apartment has not changed (though it is cleaner than I remember and my husband certainly deserves credit for that), which means I must have. It is unsettling to be unsettled, all the more so because I don’t think of my 9-month-lease dorm room apartment in Isla Vista as “home” either. Perhaps the next apartment will fare better, or perhaps not.
It is, in the end, part of the adventure. The quest has begun and the first thing that inevitably happens at the beginning of every quest is that, for whatever reason, the heroine cannot return home. Home is the reward at the end and it is always a different home than the one she left. Usually a better one, though that may be fiction’s prerogative.
So, despite all the strangeness that comes of gazing out old windows with new eyes, I’m excited. It is as if it finally struck home (if you’ll pardon the expression) that I’m really doing this. I remember the last week before I moved out to California, staring at the contents of my closet and wondering how I was going to stick to the 50 lb. per bag weight limit, when I first realized that “Oh my God, I’m really going to go through with this.” I’m having a similar sensation now, the feeling that “I’m really doing this, I’ve already begun and I am moving forward.”
It’s a very exciting, if unnerving feeling, and I only hope I can hold onto it as the black-raincloud dread of final papers blows in (which, if nothing else, explains the weather).