“I’m an alien I’m a legal Alien
I’m an Englishman in New York”
Gordon Sumner, Song “Englishman in New York” Sting
The more I’ve moved, the less each place feels like home. In my years, I have moved nine times, but I was only old enough to remember eight of them. The longest I’ve ever lived in one place was ten years, from ages nine to nineteen. The biggest cluster of moves, were in the first years after I got married, but then we settled. October 15th was my eight-year anniversary of living in Cambridge, with only one move on the same street, about four blocks down, in this period, and I’ve lived at my present location for six-and-a-half years.
It’s not just the number of times I’ve changed residences, but how different each neighborhood is that causes that unsettled feeling. Every place has had its positives (well, maybe not Centereach, NY) and negatives. I loved Queens, NY as a child because it was a city, where I had more freedom and there were people who hung out on their stoops, making the streets lively. Then my family moved to Long Island, and I was happy to have open spaces and beaches, but I noticed how similar everyone was, in comparison to my previous block that will filled with Koreans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans. It certainly was quieter, which was nice for my father, but less festive for me. And instead of complaining about loud music and neighbors, suburbanites complain about barking dogs late at night or lawnmowers early in the morning. Every place has its drawbacks.
After I got married, my husband and I moved to Queens, though to a different neighborhood than during my childhood. Those two years were probably my favorite, so far. We had easy access to Manhattan, great restaurants, and fruit-vegetable stands. I ate well (And gained ten pounds). But I missed the beach, and the scent of city air didn’t compare; many summer weekends were spent in the suburbs to enjoy the things that we didn’t have in the city. I also wished we’d had more money at the time, so we could’ve taken advantage of our location even more.
Cambridge, MA has been a nice fit for our values and lifestyle, though my accent stuck out like a sore thumb, so I’ve worked on getting rid of my aw’s, as in dawg. And I miss New York pizza – New Yorkers know what I mean. I’ve been burned too many times by well-meaning non-New Yorkers who say they agree with me, except for a particular pizza place they recommend. They’re always wrong. There’s also not enough greenery in any cities, no matter how much they provide. When I visit my father in Maine, I also miss the open spaces, but being able to walk a lot, including over the bridge to Boston, has been a great bonus. The cities are small enough that we’re near the Boston Garden to see the Celtics, and in walking distance to see the Red Sox at Fenway.
The only person who’s conflicted about living in Cambridge is my son. We moved when he was three-years-old, and he’s never fully recovered from the upheaval. The day after we arrived, he sat on our living room floor in shock, absentmindedly pushing a truck back and forth, while staring into space. Many times, he cried over his loss of his beloved beaches. When we visit Long Island or Maine, my son waxes poetic over everything those places have that Cambridge does not. He’s so steadfast in his assertion, that when we visited Philadelphia this summer, he said it was a better city than Boston or Cambridge. When I tried to point out some of the negatives, he wouldn’t hear of it. My daughter, however, is a Cambridge girl through and through, including absorbing the accent (She says cah instead of car). Of the four of us, she’s never lived anywhere else.
Like my son, I miss Long Island too. I haven’t visited in two months, which makes me homesick. Most of our family still lives there, and I also miss friends – especially ones I’ve recently reconnected with thanks to facebook and my high school reunion. Culturally, it’s foreign, yet familiar. Moving away made me see it in a different way. I spent most of my life there, so even though I don’t love everything about it, Long Island is more like home to me than anywhere else.
The small differences between states or towns cannot compare to people who leave their own country to live in another. My husband’s scientist friends have come from as far away as England, France, Egypt, Togo, Macedonia, Greece, Chile, Columbia, and India. Their transitions must have been enormous.
When I visited Paris two years ago, I glimpsed at another kind of life that created a longing for something I didn’t know I wanted. I was attracted to its historical buildings and beauty; so different from the United States. And the food was incredible. When I was a child, my mother made me eat marrow because I was skinny and sickly, but it didn’t compare to the marrow I got to spread on buttered toast in Paris. Their white meat chicken in France tastes like dark meat in America. Even the simplest dishes possessed depth, and I could thrive on just cheese, bread, and wine. Best was that all the sightseeing made me drop five pounds! I know I’m not brave enough to move that far away, leaving family and friends behind, but I do my own waxing poetic over my experiences there. And I’ve added Paris to the list of places that have felt like home, but not quite.