Growing Home: Moving to NYC
My mother was with me on my first day in New York City. When she left in a dingy yellow taxicab, waving to me out the window, I only felt momentary sadness. I was more than ready for the new city; I wanted to experience everything fresh. I wanted to leave everything behind.
Certainly, there were still moments when vivid images of my old life gripped me with overwhelming nostalgia, like when I was carrying a bag of groceries to my dormitory and with a careless slip of my hand, a paper cup rolled out and its cap came off, spilling pink lemonade all over the floor. It left the floor gooey and sticky and took me a long time to clean up. I imagined how different it would be if I were back home, where my mom would cook and clean for the family. When I faced problems forging deep connections in my first months of living in New York, I was reminded that I could always rely on them. When winter was brutal and I had to go out at late hours for last-minute necessities, I acutely missed the old comforts of home. But those were merely fleeting moments. I loved and thought of home, but I was never truly homesick.
One night, after a particularly bad clash with a roommate, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was tossing and turning, at three in the morning, in a house that didn’t feel like home. As I lay there wide awake, my family was all I could think about. I could see us binge watching Hong Kong dramas together when I was in elementary school. My mom fixing me my favorite taro dessert when I was five. Our whole family gathering around to watch a popular Japanese show in my middle school days. Dad telling me about the celebrities in his time. Listening to the story of the one time he sang a famous song in front of all his peers back in college and they all applauded. Hearing him sing the same song again at home. Classic 80s and 90s music serenading us in the living room on a lazy Sunday. Going out for a stroll every night to the same mall a stone’s throw away. Cycling occasionally on the weekends. Mom bringing home new snacks to try out.
We moved house twice, went to a different mall, and cycled in a different park. Days of routine family activities gradually transitioned into years, until I turned nineteen and had to leave them for a college located a 20 hour plane ride away. When I finally fell asleep that night, disjointed memories appeared in my dreams.
I began downloading songs from the 80s and 90s. The Chinese oldies in the 80s especially struck a chord as they were the songs of my parents’ youth, and the first songs that I had heard as a child and known by heart. I listened to them amidst contemporary pop songs. The old songs brought me back in time as the new pop songs grounded me in the present, and back again. Over time, whenever seized with a sense of longing for my old life, I listened between these genres. And over time, it got easier to deal with those fleeting moments of homesickness. I still listen to them today.
Now, I am used to going out late at night with friends without having to worry excessively about parents’ approval, or coming home to my mom anxiously waiting for me on the living room couch. I am used to deciding to stay over at friends’ place on a whim. I am used to changing roommates and dealing with all the uncertainty it can bring. I am more and more accustomed to independence, and the good and the bad that come with it. It took me a while, but I have grown with having to handle every problem in school and in the house on my own. I have adapted to deal with loneliness. I’ve become like clay: malleable.
Most importantly, as I’m still in the beginning of my twenties, there seem to be more opportunities lying like ripe fruits at my feet in foreign cities, and I constantly feel that I have to take advantage of them before it is too late. With these lofty goals in mind, I do not know if I can be back in my home country any time soon. I do want to make plans to move to a city closer to home, but even then I would not be staying with my parents the way I always have throughout the last nineteen years. Once I start working, the holidays will be fewer, and the decision more permanent.
Coming-of-age literature has prepared me for this moment, this determinant step into the threshold of adulthood, this full independence, this inevitable loss of an old way of life. Many years ago Judy Blume wrote in Tiger Eyes, “There are so many memories here in Atlantic City. But you can’t go back. Not ever. You have to pick up the pieces and keep moving ahead.” I know writers have been through this, and that countless other young people continue to go through the same transition, but the decision to move still fills me with conflicting emotions. One year from now I could be anywhere, I could be crossing a busy road in midtown Manhattan, or standing amidst the buzz of Central Hong Kong, and my nostalgia for home will be there, along with all my excitement and all my fears. No matter where I go, I bring both the discomfort and joy of moving with me; I bring my phone’s ever-present music library, filled to the brim with Chinese disco and 90s jams, and the feeling of home that comes along with it.