By Adelle Xiao
This piece talks about my relationships with nature and my parents in order to explore my feelings toward living in New York City.
I am a city girl. My home is in New York City. In my neighborhood: the blasting of Spanish music and the food trucks I always pass by when I walk to the subway station. Home is the subway during rush hour, repetitive dings of swiping Metrocards and robotic train announcements, and the crowds of people in a train car who make it hard for me to breathe. I imagine home as twinkling luminous street lights and bustling streets, familiar sights of towering buildings that reach up to hide and cover the sky.
I am a city girl. When I think of nature, I think of hurriedly taken snapshots of cotton candy clouds and breathtaking sunrises that I save for when I’m stuck at home, longing to venture outside in the world. I am reminded of the unnoticeable plumes and dirty air that I have become accustomed to in my fifteen years here. I clearly picture the sidewalks I walk on every day: strewn with trash bags and things that no one cares about anymore. I mark my footsteps, and I wonder how much of the filth on the concrete sidewalk has come from me over the past four years that I’ve been walking these same paths.
I am a city girl. I was raised in the city of dreams itself, raised to chase passion and pursue my goals. I grew up reading and fantasizing over unrealistic fairy tales—wishing stars, miracles, and perfection. On cold, lonely nights I remember to dream, to look up and wish on a shooting star. Time freezes in the moment when I lose myself staring at pitch black, neverending skies, with the occasional light flickering up above. Are the lights from airplanes passing by, or are they real stars? When I do remember to look up, I pretend that these are stars, pretend that somewhere a wishing star is listening. But I think it’s strange that in the city of dreams, I sometimes dream of leaving.
I am a city girl. I’ve been limited to my life here in New York for so long, but I know my parents cannot say the same. I found myself looking at pictures of the village, imagining that nature was everywhere, in the open, vast skies that seem to reach out and touch every corner of the earth. I imagined living by a still, serene river, waters rippling soothingly and bringing solace. Mountains and hills reaching up and merging with the sky. I grew up hearing occasional snippets of stories about living in a Chinese village from my dad at the dinner table. Stories of having dogs and cats, walking to school, enduring hardships as they came. I never listened.
I am a city girl. I realize I barely know anything about my parents and their upbringing. I don’t know firsthand what life in a village is like, what it was like for my parents. I don’t know what provinces they came from, what year they came to the US, I don’t know anything about my aunts and uncles and cousins, not even what they look like. Although I want to know these things now, I feel ashamed, guilty for not really caring before, for letting their stories die.
I am a city girl. But sometimes, when I think about it, I don’t want to be a city girl. The unknown calls for me and I search for a place where I can break free, and no longer feel so small and limited under towering buildings in suffocating crowds and shadows. So now, I remember the stories, and I wonder. What it must have been like to wake up to fresh air and mountains and rivers, to feel so close to the sky? To go from that to life in America, to pitch black darkness and smoke and starless skies? To leave everything you know behind for a city of dreams: false promises and no guarantees? To have not seen your family for years, miles of deep ocean stretching between you and your motherland?
I am a city girl. I remain ignorant of struggle, living in stability but still selfishly searching for something more. I live in a city of dreams, and I take it for granted. I don’t have to understand what it’s like to live a life in a village, what it’s like to walk miles to school every day, to struggle, to be truly hungry. I am able to look down on everything I have, to want to run away to a place where city noises and this life can never find me. For so long, I’ve been able to overlook the fact that the foundation of my life and dreams are built upon my parents’ sacrifices.
So here I stand. Accepting my identity as a city girl, and dreaming to truly do something to give back. To make something of the life I have been given.
I started writing this piece after attending a Girls Write Now workshop about writing nature-related memoirs and personal writing. I wrote down a lot of descriptions about New York City, nature and experiences relating to my parents, which I then organized into different thoughts and sections. I also added the line “I am a city girl” throughout the piece in order to unify all the different ideas together. After receiving feedback from Sarah, my mentor, I made a few changes in some sections, specifically including the ending.
Born and raised in New York City, Adelle Xiao is currently a sophomore in high school in Manhattan. She most often writes personal essays, memoirs, and poetry about experiences that are important to her. When she is not writing, Adelle spends most of her time making art, playing the violin, and doing various forms of volunteer work.