When she was five years old, Nora Ephron’s parents relocated to Beverly Hills from New York City. “The sunlight dapples through the trees, and happy laughing blond children surround me,” she writes. “All I can think is, What am I doing here?”
I always wanted to live in Nora Ephron’s New York. Not only the New York we saw in movies, with brownstones and autumn trees, but also the one with homey neighborhoods and specialty food shops and a new place to go every day.
Growing up, I never saw the city that way—and that’s what we Long Islanders called it: the city. New York City was a scary place. It was full of cold skyscrapers and high crime and pickpockets and honking horns everywhere you turned. Even when I was a teenager and was old enough to take the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station with my friends, whereas they relished the freedom and appreciated the city’s greatness, I looked over my shoulder at every turn and was afraid to walk anywhere there wasn’t a crowd.
As an adult, I have way more appreciation for Manhattan. When my husband and I are on Long Island for a visit, we try to reserve at least one day to take the train into Penn, and plan what we want to see that day. We’re OK with doing the more touristy things—the New York Public Library, Madison Square Garden, Rockefeller Center, a hot pretzel stand—but by the end of the day, we’re more than ready to be back on the train, heading east, toward less noise and more green. We’re OK with returning to suburbia, chain grocery stores and gas stations and movie theaters. We’re OK with driving everywhere we want to go.
And yet, I still envy Nora’s New York. More to the point, I still wish I’d wanted to live in Manhattan. I wish I was the type to do city living regardless of the city. Moreover, I wish I knew, at five years old, where I belonged. At five years old, I didn’t have the cognizance to call Long Island the place where I was meant to be, or to identify any other place as such. Wherever I lived, be it in Massachusetts or North Carolina or Montana, I still identified myself as the transplanted Long Islander. But even for the year I moved back to Long Island, as happy as I was to finally have the Empire State license plates on my car, I still didn’t know where, exactly, on the Island I belonged. I didn’t know which town was mine (certainly not the one I resided in), if I was supposed to buy or rent, live on the East End or just visit on a regular basis.
I couldn’t find a community.
Montana still baffles me. Anyone who knows both my sister and me would think the universe mixed us up and sent the wrong sister westward. (She lives close to the water. See what I mean?) That’s not to say I’m miserable—on the contrary, I was immediately welcomed and embraced by the very community that was MIA in the northeast. We live in a suburban neighborhood complete with sidewalks and kids riding bikes and walking dogs and two-car garages. We live near a Target. We spend time in the heart of downtown Billings. On a clear day we have a lovely view of the Beartooth Mountains on the way to downtown. We’re ten minutes from the airport, a luxury you can’t get on Long Island even if you lived right next door to LaGuardia or JFK.
It’s a far cry from Nora’s New York, however. And once in awhile, even when I am at my happiest, holding hands with my husband after visiting with our closest friends and/or eating at one of our favorite restaurants, I still find myself wondering, What am I doing here?
I just want to know where I truly belong.
One look at my husband and the answer is clear.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.