It’s three months into the school year, and with winter’s approach the days are getting shorter. Long walks to class drag on forever; subway rides fog up as sweaty strangers press close together, and you can’t see out your glasses. Thanksgiving break seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel, a respite from the travails of city life, a return to the comforts of home.
We all remember the excitement of our first Thanksgiving break: the anticipation of reuniting with hometown friends; your imagined monumental homecoming; the return of the neighborhood’s prodigal child from his/her descent into the city.
For the first day back, home is everything you expected. Family greets you with open arms. Your bed is just as comfortable as you remember. Home cooking is delicious — and free! (Some advantages of home you only realize after leaving.)
You decide to meet up with old friends, eager to hear stories of their lives on traditional college campuses (and awaiting your chance to share stories of Life In The Big City). You meet up at a coffee shop, the mall — maybe go for a drive. After initial stories, though, conversation dwindles. Maybe you dredge up old memories — remember when so-and-so kissed so-and-so after prom?! Ah, those were the days…
Parents are calling; it’s time for dinner. Right – we eat on their schedule here. Good, since your friends were running out of stuff to say anyway.
The next day free, you decide to revisit locations from your youth: The high school you attended, your first job. When you visit, things seem … smaller. And different. There are new people, new teachers, new workers. What’s more, they’re all talking, laughing, carrying on with business as usual — as if you never left! The old-timers remember you, indulge playing catchup for a few minutes. But there’s not much time to chat — they have to get back to their lives now.
Another text from Mom. Do you want to visit Grandma in the nursing home? No, you think. When did everyone get so old? Where did the grandparents of my youth go? Who are these people who struggle to remember my name? You ignore the text and set your phone to silent.
When revisiting your old haunts proves discouraging, you consider trying out someplace new: With the fake ID you picked up on 8th St., the town bar is now an option! What was formerly the domain of parents and older siblings is now your territory.
But what once seemed like the promised land proves provincial and depressing. You inevitably bump into the never-lefts, the townies — people your age who walked the high school graduation aisle with you, but didn’t make the same move after that. “What’re you up to?” you ask them. They tell of their jobs at the mall, how they’re considering applying to the local college. They ask excitedly about New York, and as you explain to them the day-to-day of your life you see by the look of their eyes that nothing you say will reach beyond their preconceived notions of the city, of how your life must be like an episode of Law and Order or The Muppets Take Manhattan, how you must wake up every morning and look out your window onto Times Square, greeting The Big Apple with a song and a smile.
Well, at least the beer is cheap. But the company isn’t the same, not like back in the city; the townies and your friends who went to “real school” speak of the things you came to New York to escape — of sports, their cars, the weather. You don’t want to feel like a jaded New Yorker — I don’t want to feel like one writing this — but you feel that, even in adult situations, this place is not for you.
More free food at home. Free laundry. Maybe an offer to get some new clothes at the mall. As the days wear on, the excitement around home wears off. Landmarks of your hometown appear familiar, but they begin to feel foreign. You don’t feel like you belong anymore. As friends become old friends, the disconnect grows and your realize that you are not the person who used to live here. The place has moved on, and so have you.
But that’s what you wanted, right? That’s why you left wherever you’re from and came down to the Village, so you could be around the culture and vibrancy of the city. When you adopted New York as your New Home, you had to give your old one up; you can’t be in two places at once, not really. You’ll always have ties to there — but as your new life blossoms, those connections will become more and more tenuous until, one day, you find yourself a senior in college, headed home for your final Thanksgiving break, resigned that only your family and perhaps a close friend or two will be waiting there for you, stepping onto that train or plane or bus with the small flame inside you — the desire to return back to New York, back home, already burning.