You are your city’s harshest critic and its biggest fan all-in-one. You reserve the right to bitch constantly about it; about the litter, the extortionate travel prices, the awful nightlife — while at the same time passionately defending it to any out-of-towners with preconceived ideas. Your city may be a dump, but it is your dump, and those who don’t live there can never truly understand it.
You long for a holiday. Any chance to get away from the suffocating familiarity of these same streets, same buildings, day after day. You plan a long break — somewhere as far as possible from your city — somewhere with fresh air and quaint wild life. You arrive at the perfect destination excited to see how fabulous other parts of the world can be. Your city pales in comparison, always.
Then, slowly, unnoticeably at first, you start to miss it. The unrelenting friendliness of the people where you are becomes tiring. You find yourself pining for your stone faced locals. When you finally arrive home, you breathe in your city’s unmistakable scent — exhaust fumes and greasy street food and something else, eau-de-home, that you can’t quite put your finger on. You allow yourself to feel comforted by all of this, just for a moment. That moment passes. You complain loudly when you step in dog mess seconds later; when your train is delayed, then delayed again, then cancelled; when some large sweaty guy catcalls you from his tiny, rusting car.
That’s how this relationship works, you and your city. Its give and take, love-hate. You need it. You know each other better than anyone has ever known anything. Your city knows how to come alive just when you need it to — at Christmas with twinkling lights and snow and displays in shop windows, or summer; humid streets and long, smoky days spent at the park under your tree with The One. It has always been there for you, through every up and down. It gave you the sidewalk corner for your first kiss, the dead end back road for that car accident, provided the rain to cry with you after your very worst break up. Your city knows you and it provides for you, every time, stable and unchanging.
In return, you could write volume after volume about this place. You know every nook and cranny, every shortcut, every coffee shop. You cannot drive down a road without it invoking some memory, a feeling, the vague recollection of an old song you used to sing, or a smell or a taste that is still almost tangible. You don’t stop to think about it often, but when you do it hits you just how good your city has been to you and you hope you have done it at least some justice. You hope you have lived a life on these streets that is worthy, that you have laughed loud enough, loved passionately enough, and fought hard enough. Nothing less is deserved by your city than lives that have been well lived. You think you have risen to this challenge.
Eventually, of course, you have to move on. It is not so much that you outgrow your city, but rather more a mutual, amiable decision. You need something new, a bigger challenge, and your city needs occupants less jaded than you, to show its magic off to fresh ears and eyes that will be astounded as you once were. You part on good terms.
You move in to your new city. It is different. You find yourself trying to phone your old Chinese restaurant for takeaway a hundred miles away; you ask your new colleagues if they are going to a bar later that, of course, does not exist in this strange new land. It is different, but you like it, and your city starts to fade into an affectionate memory. This is okay.
You find a new coffee shop, where the waiter asks you where you are from. You cast your mind back to those streets, parks, buildings. Where to begin? How to describe your city? You don’t know if you possess the words to do so. You will try anyway. It is home, and will remain so forever. This new city is home too. A life lived as well as these cities deserve, you decide, cannot stay in one place indefinitely. It should end with a hundred different homes, each as imperfectly perfect as the last. In each, you will leave a piece of your heart. A magical union; city and tenant. A bond to last a lifetime.
For now, though, your city is enough. It is yours, to have and to hold, for better and for worse. You step outside and breathe in the crisp autumn air, the falling leaves. What more could one want, you ask yourself, and you’re at a loss for the answer.
This is enough.
by Sarah James