I come from a different land. My people settled the Santa Cruz River Valley back in 10,000 B.C., if we are to believe archeological records. And then my other people in the early 1500’s. Such constancy can lull you into a generational sense of security. Time is not measured in seconds or days or even years. Instead we talk in terms of legacies and traditions handed down intentionally and unintentionally. Words created out of necessity that passed down and lost all sense of origin but which cannot not find their way into contemporary conversations.
So here I am, an immigrant myself. I showed up on the eastern shore of the United States with two suitcases and a pile of dreams. You may say that being an American citizen precludes me from being an immigrant in NYC, but your scoffing is unwarranted. In some respects, it’s the most foreign place I’ve ever been.
Unlike most of the United States, which has common standards and practices, NYC is a study in idiocincracy. There’s nothing quite like it. I speak the language. I’ve read the books and seen the movies. I look the part. And yet I find myself out of my depth constantly.
I don’t know how the trash works here. Someone pays someone else to haul things away. There’s no standardization. I don’t know what gets recycled or how to separate things here. No one tells you these things. You’re just expected to know. I feel like I showed up for the second day of class and everyone else got a copy of the syllabus but me. I’ll tell you one thing for certain: the neighbors are annoyed by the things that I’m doing. But I’m not trying to be a nuisance. I’m really doing the best that I can.
They salt the roads here at night. I saw a truck last Sunday pouring salt, gathered into hilltops in Bushwick, onto the road. The salt lowers the freezing point of water from 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees Celsius) to around 20 degrees. It gives you 12 degrees of play before the roads will freeze over. This is stuff I know now because it’s finally become an issue.
Seven months in on December 10th, I think I’ve acclimated well. Even so, I still want to fold myself in half seven times and disappear when I step into a faux pas situation and do something remarkably stupid. I’m not new to faux pas, I commit them all the time (thank you autism), but they signal to everyone how truly new to this place I am. No matter how old I get, being caught out as ignorant still feels so painful to me. It’s as if I hold myself to such a high standard of what I must know, that I am still to this day battling the shame of it. Or knowing things that everyone else seems to know. And it hurts. And I cry over my own stupidity.
Being gentle to one’s self takes courage and energy. I’m not always up for it.
All I can say is what I do know for certain: I am sorry and I will get better. But it’s one of those ongoing battles, learning. Like keeping the kitchen clean. Just as soon as you’ve done it, you have to dirty another dish, another fork, because the eating never does end.
So I nourish my mind more than my body, knowing that growing requires caloric intake. But I can’t keep other people from passing judgment on me based on these trying times, this awkward phase. Don’t judge, I plead, I might just “glow up” into an exemplary New Yorker. And, by the way, can you name five types of snakes, or tell me anything about the composition of the Grand Canyon, or point out the Milky Way on a clear night, or describe the particular variety of petricor that perfumes the desert after a summer monsoon downpour?
We, all of us, have something to learn, don’t we?