Fifth Avenue is literally on my right, even as I’m typing this from the (almost) comfort of my shared room. I only need to turn my head a little to see the orange-lit street (it’s a Friday night) through my window, but I don’t need to. Fifth Avenue doesn’t let you forget that you’re living on it; it makes itself known through the constant noise of construction work in the morning and drunken people shouting at each other in all languages, or excited freshmen shrieking by the streets, or honking cars and police sirens racing through the night. If I walk over the room to our other window, I can, with some effort, see the avenue in its entirety: a strip of twinkling (and noisy) lights, with the lit-up Empire State Building on the far right end, and the Washington Square Arch on the far left, with the Freedom Tower behind it.
My suitemates are having some kind of party in their room (again), so I have this room to myself, for now. Our bathroom is gross. I’m sitting here procrastinating because I’m so confused over the latest Writing the Essay assignment. I’ve just come back from a Totoro film screening in which Tika, Kita, Sweta and I arrived super early to dominate, and then went into the streets afterwards doing the Totoro dance around a sad little tree.
It’s never quiet and I’m never alone, even when I am. Everywhere I hear and see the signs of people. And my gosh, what people they are. In the three weeks that I’ve been here I’ve heard and seen more than I have in the nine months before I moved here. And I’m not even trying to deliberately put myself where the action is. Things simply happen all the time.
Already my first week feels like ages ago. The excitement of being surrounded by these tall, beautiful buildings, the intimidation of (relatively) overly-friendly guards, students, professors, strangers, (I freeze when people talk to me when I don’t expect them to) and the openness and the ease with which these people talk about themselves and their thoughts, I think they’ve all faded to a certain degree. I’ve stopped trying to find the comfort of the things I’m familiar with back at home, and I’m finding home in this discomfort. I’m getting into the rhythm now, I think. Classes are challenging but incredibly rewarding. I’m taking this seminar Literature of Capitalism and it turned out so intense that I find myself dreading the next session. But this week I just got my essay back and it was graded pretty well. So I think I can do this. I’ve been so intimidated by a lot of things that I (subconsciously) started expecting very little of myself, but this grade reminds that I’m capable.
I’m slowly getting the hang of things. Nowadays I don’t even think twice anymore about initiating or returning small talks with strangers. Heck, now I’m even so optimistic that I get into conversations believing that every one that I’m getting into is a potential for friendship, or even if it isn’t, there is so much to learn just from hearing what kind of lives they’ve led and what they choose to say. It’s a different kind of optimism from the first week. This one is a lot more subdued, and because of that it is not something that I can see myself exhausting anytime soon. I think I’m finally giving myself to the city. I don’t feel like a VIP here, but I don’t feel unwelcome, either. When my neighbor barges into my room for math help right before a quiz, or when we go out for dinner in the dining hall and end up with an elaborate scheme for taking stalker pictures (and actually doing it), or when my suite mate asks me if I’m OK after a particularly terrible coughing fit, or when the professor asks me to read out my essay, or when I bump into some almost-stranger and we head to the library together, or when we start to think about road trips and decide who does the driving, I think I feel the inklings of belonging to this city ecosystem. I’m still trying, but I don’t believe that it’s impossible.