I keep forgetting what day it is. Maybe this is normal for someone without a full-time job. But there is another reason, I think, for my disorientation. In a few days, my world will shift once again. I am leaving New England, my home for the past 13 years, and moving to Atlanta.
Atlanta is a city I know well, yet don’t know at all. I grew up there, left for college when I was 17 and except for squatting with my parents for a couple months after graduation, have not lived there since. I have loved and hated it, depending on where I am in my life. I swore I would never return. And yet I am.
I tend to have relationships with cities. Atlanta, Boston, Paris. This is my triangle, the cities I call home. I fall in love with them. Fight with them. Embrace them. They become my life, and they either feed me or destroy me.
When I moved to Boston, I was full of hope, ready to offer my heart to that vibrant city. From my first days, I was assaulted by persistent hostility and aggression. I found myself running in the subway station simply because everyone else was. Life spun faster and faster. It only grew worse, forcing me to become as hostile and aggressive as the people around me in order to survive. It harmed my soul, depressing me profoundly. It made me rageful. It made me want to kill people. It made me want to die. Boston is a hard city, and while some people thrive on its aggressive energy, I was collapsing under it. Seeking respite, I kept moving deeper into the Massachusetts suburbs until I left the state. Settled in a beach cottage in Rhode Island. No neighbors stomping above or below me. Somewhat friendlier drivers. But Rhode Island is an insular state, a network of people who grew up together and are slow to accept outsiders. I met suspicious glares every time I entered a coffee shop. I made friends with people who had relocated here, and in time, they left again. Within a few years, all of my friends had moved away or disappeared.
Through all of this, I convinced myself that I was in the right place. I told myself that I couldn’t leave the Northeast because of all that it offered me. I loved the unique restaurants in Boston and Providence – god, the restaurants. I embraced the Italian culture, the immense variety of canned tomato products in the grocery store, handmade ravioli for sale at an Italian grocery. I discovered my heritage, testing out Irish pubs and claiming my place in Boston’s proud Irish-American community. In the South, I had always felt an outsider. In New England, I was home. I could finally relax into my political beliefs and be certain that everyone around me shared them. I lived in two blue states. As blue as you could get, like me. And the ocean was in my blood. When I traveled to landlocked Atlanta, it was as though I held my breath the whole time. Flying into Logan, the sapphire harbor in sight, I could exhale.
Yes, I was in love with Boston and to a lesser degree, Providence. They spoiled me, welcomed me, abused me, disappointed me, embraced me. But in the end, they failed me. I had to leave in order to love them again.
As many times as I have moved in my adult life – at least 40, though I stopped counting – I am nearly always sad when I leave a place. I have lived in Rhode Island longer than I have lived anywhere as an adult. It has been my home as much as any place can be, in spite of my struggles. Even as I look forward to my future, I am sad to leave this behind. I keep bargaining with myself that maybe I can make it work after all. But I know I can’t. Growth is knowing when a relationship has run its course.
And so I go to Atlanta. My third eye. I don’t say I am moving back because I am certain that the city has changed as much as I have in 25 years. We will both rediscover each other. I try not to be biased by the things I have seen on my infrequent visits: the selfish consumerism, the materialistic displays of cars and homes, the failure to be in any way environmentally conscious. Those things will either change in my view as I live there, or perhaps I will try to change them. Encourage businesses to recycle. Start a movement. Maybe.
Instead, what draws me is the warmth of people I encounter. The friendliness and politeness. After the frigid (in so many ways) Northeast, I am ready for kindness. I am ready to be kind. I am ready for Atlanta. Because while I left it all those years ago, like a faithful partner, it never left me.