Our theme for the month of March is “cities.”

I meant to write this yesterday. I had a free afternoon so I figured I’d trek to an art exhibit I had to visit for class. I envisioned a picturesque outing: gaining chic inspiration at the museum and then discovering a new coffee shop where I’d write an elevated and original piece about living in this city featuring all the profound insights and observations I gathered throughout my day.

But on the Metro to the museum the guy sitting across from me had a drop of snot dangling from his nose and after I was done walking around the exhibits, nodding my faux appreciation, I was hungry and my feet hurt and all the nearby coffee shops were already closed. 

So I just went home. And made dinner. And watched a Spanish-language broadcast of a college basketball game because my parents’ Xfinity account wouldn’t let me stream the English version when I wasn’t on their wifi.

I don’t really live in the city. I’m across a bridge, in another state, and in a different city, which is really more of a county of downtown-esque hubs with suburbs and strip malls filling the spaces in between. There are single family homes and giant, shiny apartment buildings and about six 7-Elevens in my square mile. 

Right before I left Ann Arbor, the last place I lived, I visited the local history museum. I lived three houses down from it for two years but kept putting off visiting for the next week, until I only had one week left. It’s a great little house museum (I learned that the streets were named after real people, who knew) and I left it inspired to make an effort to learn more about the local history of wherever I moved to next. 

And Arlington may have such a place. It most certainly does have its own history. But as I and so many before me have plopped down here simply because of its proximity to DC, our backs to the rest of the county and the zip code only relevant when getting mail, that history feels very removed. Paved over.

I felt self-conscious stopping to take pictures of random buildings on my way back from the museum. I don’t yet fully believe the blessing and curse of being in a city: that no one cares what you’re doing. But then I remembered that I was two blocks from the Air and Space Museum and the people walking past me were probably tourists themselves. And that nobody cares.

Maybe I feel that insecurity because I myself sometimes judge people for looking overly touristy. Which I probably do because I feel insecure about looking like I belong here. Which is probably because I feel insecure about belonging here.

But to what extent do any of the people I judge or feel judged by belong here? I am the x-millionth person to live where I do, in the pocket of Arlington I live in, even in the room that I live in. How many have come and gone, none of us much more than tourists if you widen your time scale a smidge.

But maybe I’m over-philosophizing. 

This city is a place. A place where a lot of people live and visit and eat, drink, and pee. Waves of human bodies have moved in and moved out, many happily, many unhappily. This is my corner of the world for this slice of my life. 

It’s bigger than other corners I’ve lived in. I can ride public transportation to visit museums where security guards stand for hours in a room painted floor to ceiling with depressing quotes and a giant, talking, animatronic crow. Gaggles of British teens walk past rows of food trucks selling Philly cheesesteaks and boba tea. Someone my age strides past holding an actual, honest-to-God briefcase. The light from the sunset makes concrete pillars look pretty. Someone’s written “disconcerting” with sharpie on a sign about DC fines. A woman passes by on a bike with a nose cartoonishly red from the wind.

I notice for the first time when my train starts towards my stop that there’s a “Welcome to Virginia” sign hung on the wall just before the tunnel. An attempt to maintain distinction, even underground, even in a transit system that exists to blur the lines of geography and facilitate the transience of people.

There is good and bad. There is beautiful and ugly. No one cares but also no one cares. If or when I leave here I’ll remember my people, my apartment and my grocery store, my church and my school, and the occasional trip to a museum where I’m just as much a tourist as anyone else.

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