I need the Big City. I need towering spires of steel and glass glimmering in the sun. I need feet, hundreds of feet, pounding miles of cement sidewalk. I need my feet to pound that pavement, feeling the rhythm through my soles, into my soul. I need the Big City voices, young, old, Black, White, Brown, swelling around me into the day. I need the push, the rush, the flushed sensation, the vibration of hundreds of thousands living en masse. I need to feel the beating heart. I need to see poor next to rich next to me. I need to smell human beings living around me.
When my husband and I were looking to buy our first home, I spent a few days in my hometown of Wilmington, DE. My mother and I chatted about their decision to buy the home I grew up in. My mother said, “I remember the trees, and the quiet and just feeling so good and peaceful. I just loved it here .” I listened to my mother and in that moment, years of my own internal monologue suddenly shifted. They LIKED living here in this suburbany neighborhood on the edge of a small city limit. They CHOSE to live here. It’s what they WANTED.
In my mind, the silence of my old neighborhood was a vast isolation. The quiet of the trees echoed my own loneliness, my sleepiness, and my laziness. I never felt truly awake. I lived to escape to the hustle and bustle of school. I became active in extra-curriculars because to be home was to sink down into the silence, the cool oblivion of home. It was not a bad place. My parents were loving. I was safe and cared for in my home. So safe that I could not be fully alive. I was dormant at home.
Things were different in India. I have family in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore, all big cities. Those trips were like a jolt from an enormous battery. I couldn’t get enough. I thought it had something to do with reconnecting to my roots, getting in touch with my Indian self. Some of that was true. Now I see that most of that feeling came from the energy I got from being in a Big City.
I got my fix after I graduated from a small, rural, liberal arts college. With no job, I moved to Chicago, city of Big Shoulders. Chicago was my power source. The skyline fed my dreams. The people moved me to play, and dance, and scream and fight. I reached into myself and sent blazing trails of me out into the Chicago streets. I laughed with the El train as it moved haltingly from the elevated tracks of streetscapes and sunshine down into the rumbling belly of darkness. I peered out the window atop the John Hancock Tower and gazed at the solid grey silence of Lake Michigan kissing the controlled chaos of the city map. I was in love with life. The Big City was my power source.
Now, I have two children. The siren song of suburban life is everywhere. “You will be safer.” “More space.” “Cheaper housing.” “Better schools.” “Everyone is doing it.” I am not doing it. I now understand that my mom chose to live in a quiet neighborhood because it fed her soul. That was right for her. She needed that space to reflect, to find solitude. I need the Big City to pull me out of myself. I need to hear the voice of the city calling me out onto the street. I need to know my children will see humanity in all it’s messy glory every day. Maybe they will think I am crazy for choosing that. That’s OK too. When they grow up, they can find their own way, their own true home. Until then, they will have to learn to respec the Big City. Maybe they too can feel the Big City Love.