“I loved that place as if it was a part of me, and perhaps, in some ways, it was.”
~ Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
There’s a story I told myself for many years, that only selfish people choose to live somewhere based on the qualities of the place, rather than proximity to the people they loved most. After all, what is life about, if not the people we love?
I fought and fought with myself as time and again in my 20s, a tremendous urge rose up inside me to taste life elsewhere, beyond the week-sized slice of life that travel might allow. And yet, each time my husband and I almost moved to a different city — and trust me, we got close, at least twice, if not more — we got scared. Scared, mostly, of hurting our families. And scared, maybe, of actually doing the thing we dreamed of — because what happens if you take the leap and pursue the dream, and you’re still not satisfied?
One day, in our early 30s and for no practical reason, just an itch that after more than a decade INSISTED on being scratched, we moved to NYC, that metropolis with a rich history of attracting ambitious creative dreamers — in other words, people like us.
The Washington, D.C., area, where were from, did not feel like it was full of people like us. DC is a beautiful place. It’s full of great arts organizations, and most importantly, it is the place that many people we love call home. And yet, just walking down the street in DC, something felt off. Lacking. It’s hard to explain this to people who have never experienced a sense of rightness, or wrong-ness, of place, but I imagine it’s what it must feel like to be in a romantic relationship with someone who is perfectly nice, there’s just the small matter of your not being in love with them.
So we left. It was really fucking hard, but we did it, and we never once questioned the decision. Because we knew it was right.
We loved New York. Even as we struggled, we loved it — through the recession, through noisy neighbors that kept us up at all hours, through adjusting to being earnest hobbyist artists in a city obsessed with fame. On some fundamental, chemical level, we simply felt so much more at home in this new place than we had ever felt in our actual hometown.
While we didn’t go to New York with any conscious intention to “make it big,” in retrospect I think there was a little titillation around the possibility. But the bigger attraction, for us, was that this was where people like us lived. People with weird ambitions they can’t quite explain, who demand remarkable and beautiful experiences every day, who just can’t quite relax anywhere else the way they relax here, even as they fantasize, constantly, of an escape.
So, we were home, first in the East Village (I have never felt as at home in a place as I felt there), then, in various neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
And then, five years later, we moved back to DC.
We had a 3-year-old daughter at this point, and it was lonely and exhausting to raise her without family nearby. And on some level I just felt guilty, making aging grandparents schlep up the Jersey Turnpike to be part of their granddaughter’s life. Combine that with some real financial stress, and a growing sense of outrage and despair at the cost of living relative to the quality of real estate, and it just felt like it was time to go. We flirted with a move to the Hudson Valley, to achieve a lower cost of living (and a beautiful quality of life), which might free us up to do more creative work… but, the tug of family was strong, so in June 2015, we moved back to DC.
And then in June of 2016, we moved back.
Do you have whiplash yet?!
Ostensibly, our return to New York only 12 months after our departure from it was driven by a job offer I couldn’t refuse. And it’s true: Were it not for the touch of kismet that brought the perfect job knocking on my door, we certainly wouldn’t have packed our bags less than a year after unpacking them. We were resigned to living in DC, knowing it was not a place that lit us up inside, but happy — truly, genuinely happy — to be near our families and friends.
Plus, our daughter had snagged a spot in an amazing public charter school in DC, where she would have had a guaranteed spot through middle school. We literally won the school lottery, and any parent who’s dealt with getting their child into a decent school in an American city knows that this is not something to take lightly.
We were going to stay.
But it wasn’t our place.
When I told my friends we were moving back to New York, they said, “Well, that makes sense. You seemed pretty miserable in DC.”
I did?? I knew I wasn’t psyched about the city, but I didn’t think I was miserable.
Then I looked back over blog posts I’d written in the past year, and the depression was unmistakable.
How could that be? I adored living near our families and some of our dearest friends. So what that we had to drive everywhere and I hate being in a car? So what that our neighborhood left me cold — that I couldn’t connect with it no matter how much I tried, or with any of the other neighborhoods we explored on “date night,” always returning home disappointed? These were superficial things. People — that’s what really mattered.
Despite all the energy I have spent for the better part of two decades trying to convince myself to ignore the strong pull of place, it turns out, being in the wrong place (especially after being in the right place) can take a real toll. So can two decades of beating yourself up for wanting something you don’t think you should want.
You know what?
I think I’m done.
I wish what I wanted was what would make everyone else happy. But if it isn’t, it isn’t. I can either spend the rest of my life putting a whole lot of energy into denial and repression, or I can live my life.
So when a serendipitous conversation with a potential client turned into a heartfelt conversation about me joining their team in NYC full-time, I listened. Then one thing after another just seemed to magically fall into place, and the next thing we knew, Jordan and I were looking at each other and saying, “Are we really doing this?”
We were. We did. I’m writing this from our brand new apartment in Brooklyn, and it feels so right. This is our place. Not to mention, there are people here, now, that we love deeply.
There are moments that I absolutely pine for teleportation, so strong is my desire for family members or friends in DC to be here in Brooklyn with me RIGHT NOW.
Despite this, I am happy. Happier than I’ve been in a very long time.
Because I’m home.
Amanda Hirsch is a Brooklyn-based writer and improviser.