You asked me why I love my city. At the time, I felt as though I could not give you a coherent answer—not because I didn’t know why, but because I didn’t know where to begin. In my mind, I cannot distance the city from myself, even though I am no longer there. In its marriage to myself, and to everybody I knew (polygamous but faithful), there existed a kind of undertone—like the fine shadings of a sunset.
It was a place I chose for myself, unencumbered by the ghosts of history and of relations. I was as unknown to it as it was to me. Its streets were unexplored. Its hills, uncursed yet (as they shall be in the future; much maligned are those hills, and rightly so, for all the to-ing and fro-ing up and down their steepness). That loving is cartography is more fully this.
That it was my choice meant much. That it was a city I wasn’t born into, a city where I knew nobody—an open city, free and fresh—this mattered much. Perhaps I could say that it mattered most.
Each time I step out of the bus, I have this feeling of return: buoyant and clear and certain and light; it was a homecoming—something I’ve never felt coming back to the house I grew up in. How could I not have fallen in love with that?—the liberation it meant for me, the return to my choice? I had never wanted to leave the city, and yet I have.
The bells ringing out from the Cathedral at dawn and dusk, at noon, at three—ceaseless tolling in sun or storm—signaling that the light is yet to be spent, or had already been spent. How strange that I still call it mine. Or perhaps it isn’t strange at all. It is mine because I took something from it (or had it taken something from me?—at this point, both seem equally the case).
It was a space where I could meet new loves, forget old ones, or live in the memories of the past. Worry, fret, obsess. Over-analyze. But the old comforts are always there. The city appears so small that one cannot help but meet friends down the street, form opinions of random strangers, shrug at the rush of weekend tourists, invent games to pass the time. And these same people, ripped from the fabric of the city seem diminished. As though we were not fully ourselves when we were not there. As though meeting each other outside the city was an aberration. Jarring and disconcerting. And yet we were still ourselves, although lacking something—lacking the added dimension of the city, the promise of everywhere we could go to—sites of shared memory, of past comforts.
The city where under the acacia trees, with rain thin as mist, she who loved me took a cab home and never forgave me. And under those same trees, I steeled myself to never forgive he whom I loved. Could these have happened anywhere else? Perhaps. That these had not happened elsewhere is all that is important to me. The image compels the emotion, and chains it to the self forever. The same city where, perhaps to spite the cold, he and I took three blankets to my apartment’s roof-top, to watch the meteor shower. The same city whose hills shone with the lights of houses, diffused through fog.
And friends, our habits ossified—the staying put at a cafe for seven hours. Sunday crosswords passed across the table. Bottles and bottles of dark beer. A cancer’s worth of cigarettes. That it could have happened elsewhere is plausible. But it had not happened anywhere else.
Recognize it or not, we change—without meaning to, or while intending something else to happen. We change, and the city along with us. When we return from our exile (and all moments not spent in the city is exile, and all those nights are spent in the painful reconstruction of the city), we pretend that all things are exactly as they had been. But they are not. We carry along with us the memories of everywhere we’ve been—so that when we do return, we superimpose images of what we see with what we saw. The tragedy of homecoming is when our memories no longer correspond to the city we see around us. And when the city we return to appears different, would we be diminished in turn?