Three years and 36 days ago, I left New Jersey. For good. And through San Francisco into Conway, MA and then into Northampton, MA, things changed in ways I didn’t even begin to discover until I surrendered my New Jersey driver’s license at the Massachusetts RMV and said goodbye to my last non-human tie to the state I was born in and lived for nearly 27 years.
I’ve been piecing together why my view of my home state has changed so much for the bad and I believe it has to do with a couple of chronological experiences from the last three years. It started with the great anxiety I experienced upon leaving my home, family and friends, moving in with a boyfriend in exotic and faraway San Francisco, getting engaged, planning a large wedding, and all the while living in a wild, smelly part of a city I knew I wasn’t staying in. And out there – no one could help me. And I resented my family for not being able to help me although it wasn’t their fault or possibly even to their knowledge. Yet that overlooked detail started me looking elsewhere for comfort and stability. I was sick and could only help myself out of the deep nauseating anxiety that so much change brought on. For that year and a half, I felt deeply nostalgic for my past and wanted to visit NJ as much as possible. I was seeking a feeling of home and so I looked in the last place I had felt it. I was haunted by my old memories and the solid group of friends I had left behind. I kept thinking, “Why would I leave that?”
And then as my time in San Francisco was winding down to a close, I came to NJ for two and a half weeks to celebrate my sister’s birthday. And to heal. It worked temporarily and left me refreshed and excited to go on our cross country west-to-east road trip move. However, we arrived in Conway, MA as newlyweds who hadn’t yet gotten the chance to build a stable home together. And not only that, I was pregnant. Two months before I had taken my fateful Target pregnancy test, I was flying home to mommy because the big bad world was scaring me. And now only several weeks later, I was going through the hormonal and emotional changes that were preparing me to start my own home with my own baby who would one day fly home to me when the big bad world scared her. I may have been looking for work and a place to live while living with Ruth and Ernie in the worst winter of my life (weather-wise and emotionally) but I had no choice but to shape up, so shape up I did.
We found our current home. We started putting down roots instantly. We found temporary, stupid and yet paycheck-winning jobs. We met friends and neighbors. We took birth classes. We made sure San Francisco, CA and Any Town, NJ weren’t stamped on our daughter’s birth certificate. We were home.
I guess you can call that a long-winded explanation of how finding a real home for the first time in several years, a home I breathe a sigh of relief upon entering and that I long for while away, is the number one reason I no longer look to NJ for comfort. However, it was probably the pregnancy and birth of my daughter that made me shut out the Garden State to a condescending extreme. As in, I have sometimes wonder why anyone in their right mind lives there. Before you get angry, let me explain. Claiming your own space and your right to parent in the way you choose can make you a little judgmental and intolerant. Or maybe that’s just me. And yet, I had always been told to live life “in the present” and I always agreed that it sounded like an excellent decision to make, but I had no idea what they were actually talking about and how I could ever achieve it. Since Scarlet was born though, I totally get it. I wrote in my postpartum post about how having a baby made me live in the now and not in the past or future, where I had always lingered. However, I think someone should have told me that living in the present doesn’t mean shedding off your past like snake skin and recoiling at the shriveled, discolored sight of it. That’s what I’ve been doing and while I haven’t drastically begun to feel nostalgia for NJ yet, I at least know that I haven’t been feeling it at all but that I probably will again someday.
I came to NJ this weekend for my mom’s birthday. While driving through insane traffic (and I mean I’ve waited in NJ/NY mall traffic longer than waiting in the more reasonable SF Golden Gate Bridge traffic) with a very unhappy ten-month-old in a place that’s humid, visually blah, smelly, crowded and covered with 17,000 scary malls started me right on edge. Oh, and people can call me out on this because malls are places you’ll sometimes find me in. However, those times are on weekdays during business hours! I used to be able to do it and now it makes me queasy. Anyway, back on track – after several hours of seeing people’s damn brake lights and having Scarlet learn a wide range of new swear words, I found myself getting off at the first exit I saw to go to the bathroom and nurse the baby. I passed a hospital. I was looking for a McDonald’s. After about ten minutes, I realized two things: 1. The hospital I passed was the hospital my father passed away in. And 2. I was in my dear brother’s town, a few miles from his house. It shook me up to realize that I was so anti-Jersey and bitter and anxiety-ridden that I didn’t stop to look at where I was and that every square inch of it was covered with my history. My old dentist’s office was on the right. On the left was a Mongolian BBQ place I once went to on a covert date with my boss’s boss. I literally had almost stopped at a McDonald’s restroom where I would have then gotten back on the road and never realized the beauty and sadness of where I was and what it meant.
So while it ROCKED HARD to give my mom a well-deserved MacBook Pro and to watch Scarlet love and be loved by my immediate and extended family, a lot of family time always gives me anxiety. My family is awesome and no more dysfunctional and insane from any other family – basically all families are somewhat dysfunctional and insane somewhere in the blood lines. It’s just that being with family is like being in your past and your potential future at the same time and that just makes me a little crazy. So in the beginning I internalized the bitter. And bitter is everywhere. I shuddered at passive-aggressiveness, rude comments, patterns people are too old to be stuck in, etc. And yet, the sweet was so sweet. The hugs, kisses, support and love. Two days of that made me lighten up a lot. I have to cut NJ some slack. I will never live there again, but while you can take the girl out of Jersey, you can never take all the Jersey out of the girl. My history brought me to where I am today. I hope I can one day thank it. I’d like to miss it again. I don’t miss anything that’s not from 2007 or later most of the time. In the beginning of the weekend I was trying to avoid getting trapped in memories. Does that ever happen to you? Sometimes a smell, song or a visual trigger from my past will get me disoriented in time and space, and while I don’t logically forget where and who I am, a part of me drifts back into whatever awkward, young or foolish self I was in the memory I’ve been trapped into. It has the tendency to creep over me and linger like a cloud over my day or night, so I spent my road trip to NJ trying to hide from that. After two days though, I let go and let my past wash over me.
When I got in the car to come back home, the proof I needed to see that I’ve changed and grown was staring back at me in the rear view mirror and singing a song to her rubber ducky. And that’s all it takes these days to snap back into my loving and delicious present.