Crossroads with Renée Cherez: Place and the years of our lives

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  • Published on December 16, 2022
  • Last Updated March 20, 2023
  • In Guest Writers

Renée Cherez reflects on the places she’s lived over the years.

Before there were journals and ragged ziplock bags with worn-down ferry and flight tickets and rainbow currency, there were wallets filled with New York City MTA metro cards for the subway and bus. I did the majority of my growing up in two suburban cities in New York — Yonkers and Mount Vernon, the latter being what I’ve come to see as my internal base for moving across places before I knew what I was doing.

At 15, I traded my first job as a receptionist making $11/hour at my mom’s job to work at Sears, where I earned minimum wage and lost the free ride I was getting after school. My ride was replaced by an hour-long bus ride, usually with at least one friend, to the mall, which was most frustrating in the middle of January when bus drivers came when they felt like it.

I close my eyes and I see my teenage self shuffling down the aisle praying for a window seat (prime real estate for long rides) and perfect for a quick nap against the germy glass window. Stubbornly, I continued to apply for and work retail jobs throughout my early-20s with each moving farther away from home. I even went to college in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, which was at least two hours by train from home during non-rush hour traffic.

A street view of New York City roads and buildings. Helena Lopes, Pexels

I’d complain about the distance when asked because it seemed appropriate when the people around me were confused by my choices. Maybe I always had this desire to push forward and find ways to keep experiencing more of what I didn’t know. This was an itch I was scratching, or at least I was trying to with every swipe of my metrocard.

Those bus rides in high school and afterward were never uneventful — always rich with drama. Characters seemingly waited in the wings for the perfect moment to put on some sort of non-consensual performance, whether a rant or song, or sermon that you couldn’t turn away from, except the times that you better turn away, or at least hide behind sunglasses or you’d run the risk of becoming part of the show.

The keyboard of the classic T-Mobile Sidekick helped me share detailed commentary with friends about what was happening in front of me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, but my journalism days were seeding. Jamaica birthed me and New York, both the city and my 4-square-mile suburb, raised me. If it weren’t for these places and the characters that inhabited them, I would not have felt equipped to not only get on planes alone but to also know I could get myself out of unforeseen situations. I’m sure my affinity for 10-hour bus and train rides versus a quick flight were also born from these years of my life, which raises the question: What can place tell us about the years of our lives? What thread is spooling forward and backward?

Even before I made it to Earth I’ve been a traveler, a vibrant container of curiosity wandering and moving and floating from place to place taking note of what else is out there, what else I could bring back with me in my proverbial suitcase to dissect. The years in New York were my practice, my playground, my training. My years backpacking Southeast Asia and India revealed a spiritual knowing about my Blackness that helped cultivate my spiritual relationship with my ancestors. My time in Bali rooted me in my identity as a “writer” while México reintroduced me to my queerness and the idea that maybe, just maybe, I don’t adore artists because they’re insanely cool humans, but because I’m one, too. Place is indeed a character in our worlds, and just like an old record or familiar smell, it transports us with the reminder that we are never one thing, but a collection of the streets, intersections, dirt roads, avenues, gullies and blocks that provide the matter that laces us together.


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