The life of a renter is one of constant loss. Contrary to the half-formed misconceptions that the tropes of “homeowners” and “long-time neighborhood fixtures” might hold, renters, like all humans, form deep bonds with the places in which they live. This applies, of course, not only to specific homes, but to the larger neighborhoods in which they inhabit. And much like no nation believes itself to be anything shy of “the greatest,” so too is it hard to imagine one’s neighborhood as anything other than home.
Even if it’s self-delusion – telling yourself “this isn’t so bad” while scouring Craigslist for the place you really dream of – it is the story we tell ourselves nonetheless. We immediately invest in a place – no matter how dead-end the suburb, if it isn’t worth living there, why even bother? But the magic, however heartfelt, is by necessity only temporary. It’s this ability to somehow move on, despite the pain it might cause them, that seems to give renters such a low reputation in the eyes of the “natives.” But all that changing address implies is some capacity to suppress emotion. We care about where we live in, and at no time is this clearer than when you return to a neighborhood you once lived in.
For me, the change was instantaneous. I moved on a Thursday, and on Friday I took a bus back to the old neighborhood. I already felt like a stranger. The light playing off these buildings that used to be “mine,” noticing how construction on that new building is proceeding and wondering what that will be like when it’s done, feeling like you are part of somewhere and better than all those other transients just passing through for an afternoon or a night out – none of these grip the heart and mind like they did not 24 hours ago.
Nothing drove that home clearer than walking out of the grocery store there, and rather than crossing the street to walk the two blocks back to an apartment no longer home to anyone, I walked to the bus stop to wait for a ride that would actually, finally, freshly bring me home.