Like a river winding from its headwaters to the sea, you come from whatever little burg gave you your spark and shake off its dust on the threshold of the city. The big city. The biggest city. It’s always been there, open, inviting, but you’ve only just now taken the time to meet it for longer than a visit.
You’re in the city to stay.
It’s like declaring your independence from circumstance and geography. “I don’t care that I was born in a place where nothing substantive has ever happened,” you’re saying. “I don’t care that it’s impossible to earn a living here as a writer or an artist or a singer. I’m moving to a place where things happen and talent can be rewarded.”
And then you go. You take everything that you’ve been given, from your parents, your friends, your school, everything. You take it and you go.
Suddenly you don’t have to worry about finding something to do tonight. The night is lit up, always, forever with a thousand neon signs and peals of hushed laughter. You’ve declared your independence from boredom, from shyness, from envy: if you feel those here, it’s your own fault for not taking deepest advantage, for not inhaling the sweet acrid city vapors to their fullest.
But even in this independence, deep and full, new chains take hold where the old scars have scarce begun to heal.
Even the city runs on money, on gossip, on superficialities concealed behind bright and inviting smiles. You must still make the rent, only it’s harder now with a thousand hands in your pockets. What so and so did with such and such is exchanged as freely and tenderly as the most bitterly mundane comings and goings back in your small town. People smile more here because it’s expected of them more, at least if they want to get noticed and get ahead. But the dagger in the small of the back is just as sharp when it connects.
The subway, the bus, the tree-lined parkways…in many ways they are new chains, shackling you as surely as distance and time and indifference do in cities that are small enough to walk across. The expectations are still there, hemming you in, only they’re different this time. You must still move a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way if you want what others have to give. Disappointment is perhaps all the keener because there are so very many opportunities.
The city is independence and slavery made one, just as is the village.
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