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By Chelsea Prentice
Someone once told me that a city’s secrets are darker and deeper than any forest, that there were endless wonders to witness among the alleyways and old cobblestone streets.
I sit, compromised by my biases, dwelling on this quote often while in the plastic lawn chair in my 15 by 15 foot backyard. Backyard – if you can even call it that. The space I’m seated in is smaller than my first apartment by more than half and until we moved in, consisted of cement stepping stones littered lazily about as an impromptu patio. Now, half of it is an actual yard where we laid sod to comfort our 60-pound German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix in his bathroom habits. That, and to make our own lives easier with him; walking up a flight of stairs and around the block for every digestive release got old fast.
When I write things like that, I realize city life has turned me into a cynic. I didn’t used to feel overwhelmed upon awakening in my bed before I’ve even looked out the window at the weather. A two-floor townhouse would’ve, in another part of the country, seemed too large for my collections of books, wine bottle holders, wooden crates, shoes, and sweatshirts. But, here in the hustle and bustle of a city that takes on the population of over a million during the workday and whittles down to less than 700,000 after rush hour, I constantly feel claustrophobic.
I experienced a bronchial spasm for the first time a few months back that has brought on a daily sense of anxiety ever since, which I attribute solely to my city-grown claustrophobia – it helps me cope. I feel the urge to push through the air when I walk down the sidewalk in the mornings. It clings to me like an ugly stench that won’t leave the hem of my blazer, and I try hard not to gag in public – not for any actual living repulsion that’s in front of me, but because my mind has convinced my body that there are shackles around my throat.
Possibly the worst part of it is that I’m not a visitor at all. I grew up around this city, adventuring through its charms and history is a part of many childhood memories of mine. I could physically be no closer to home and yet I’ve never felt as though an inch of this place speaks to me. I yearn for flowing creeks that dance heartily over unmoved stones in the summer in a rugged backyard landscape. My ears reach out to the buzz of insects in the nearest clearing because it’s more soothing than the drum of dumpsters being emptied and the backdrop of ambulance sirens 24/7.
I sit in this miniscule swath of backyard paradise that we’ve built imagining for myself a different life entirely, one where I’m not reminded over and over again that I’m a stranger in my own world. The uneven patio beneath me does not attempt to hide its imbalance and the irony is not lost on me. I am in limbo. I am a visitor. I do not belong.
It is all I can do to breathe in the unclean air and assure myself that one day I’ll hear the howl of a wolf, the cry of an eagle, and see the full breadth of the moon from a mountainous backyard that doesn’t back up to a six foot tall, ominous brick wall which prevents me from getting out as well as it does intruders from getting in. I’ll find my way home, eventually, I tell myself.