Just Out Of Reach

A cardboard box of mementos helps Jonathan Ortiz realize his true feelings about the place where he grew up

Moving to Westchester from The Bronx was hardly memorable for me; I was only 3 at the time. What would have been a culture shock for most seemed to me a conventional development that simply led to the rest of my life. The only pre-Westchester memory I really have is obscured by dense smog and screeching subway cars passing overhead. 

Yet, until recently, I always had difficulty feeling at home in Westchester. Perhaps it was the vastness of the county, but I always felt alone, and the energy and intimacy of New York City constantly called out to me. Everything I thought I was looking for in a community seemed just out of reach. 

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My neighborhood, hidden atop the wooded apex of Gallows Hill Road in Cortlandt Manor, always seemed barren. Our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, in the loosest sense of the term you can imagine, and as a child without many peers to play with at home, I turned to videogames to escape my isolation. Naturally, I favored visiting my cousins in Orange County, where we would challenge each other in chalk-drawn four-square courts until the sun went down. 

Graduating high school offered a real chance to break far away from Westchester and the connotations it held for me. It didn’t prove very fruitful. (Trust me; I tried.) I dreamed of college in Florida but woke up in Binghamton. I ran away to Fort Knox for Army ROTC training that first summer, but to ease the fears of several family members, I dropped the program after returning to school. With a new group of friends in Binghamton, I scrapped my given name for a tacky pseudonym and donned a new, flashy wardrobe, leaving my old self back in Westchester. 

But no matter how hard I tried to run away, the fact I couldn’t escape is that my life and family were still based in Westchester. Even after earning my degree, all of the ambition in the world couldn’t generate the money I needed to relocate to New York City, not without staying here for some time. And that was the last thing I wanted to do.

So, I returned to Westchester. And now, almost a year later, my parents are selling my childhood home (we will all be staying in Westchester). I came back from work the other day, driving past the “For Sale” sign planted in my front lawn, to find my mom clearing out the garage. As I helped tape-up boxes and toss out time-worn possessions, I came across a ratchet I distinctly remember using to remove a busted spark plug from my first trusty steed: a black 2000 Honda Accord Coupe my dad bought me—the bad boy I used to drive to high school every morning, the one my buddies and I would whip around town every night just to get out of the house, the one that carried me on my first date. 

Then something unexpected occurred to me. Each link in that chain of memories was forged right here in Westchester. I realized that this is where I learned about family. It’s where I met dear friends. It’s where I experienced love, and jealousy, for the first time. It’s also where I made some bad decisions (sorry Mom and Dad, but that party was monumental) but some pretty great ones, too (shout-out to the Greater Westchester Youth Orchestra). 

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It occurred to me that although some of my aspirations lay just outside of Westchester, everything I really ever needed to grow was right here, within reach. I finally realized as I placed that ratchet in a cardboard box that no matter where I end up, Westchester will always be my home.


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Illustration By Jori Bolton

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