It was August, and I was five. We were packing up the family minivan to head to Long Beach Island for a week’s family vacation. I remember the car rolling out of the driveway, and my childhood home faded into a white spec in the rearview mirror. While it was just for a week’s time, I still recall this memory as being the first time I left home.
Soon, the times I left home became more often. There was summer camp, vacation, and of course the occasional sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Each time I left, I went through the same process: a backwards view of my home as we drove away, and then an extended nesting process full of stuffed animals and CDs to make me feels as though where I was staying was my home. All of this seemed like preparation, however, for the first time I left home to go away to college.
This time, my bags were many, and the time leaving home was longer. It was the first instance I was ever away from my home for more than two weeks. I remember packing up my clothes, guitar, books, and then saying these extended goodbyes to my friends and family. The process began once more: a flipped white house in the rearview mirror. Once at school, it was also the first time I ever felt like a stranger the second I entered a location. The nesting process took longer, and soon I became a “local” somewhere else.
Just like that, UMass Amherst became my home. I picked up local quirks, including saying “wicked” instead of “very. I even mixed up my keys to my dorm with the keys to my home in New Jersey. However, my home quickly changed again as I moved to an off-campus apartment. Soon, this ratty old house became one of my most beloved homes of all. I hated and loved everything about it simultaneously. I hated how the kitchen floor slanted, and how you couldn’t walk anywhere in the house without it sounding like a herd of elephants. I hated how badly heated it was, and I detested the lack of ventilation in the upstairs bathroom. But, as I graduated, and my lovely roommates all stood out on the front lawn of our house, I found myself clinging to everything I hated about that house (and crying in the ugliest way possible. See picture my boyfriend took of me below.) Secretly, I loved every inch of that dumb apartment, and every memory I made with everyone in it.
Moving home at this point in my life felt bizarre. I half-unpacked, knowing I’d be moving my life once more in two months to Boston. During this time, I began the process of “becoming an adult.” This included buying plates, an insurance policy, furnishing an apartment, and signing a lease with my boyfriend. Every part of me felt stuck in between stages of life. I was living in my childhood home, in a room with my baseball trophies from 2001, and ballet slippers from when I had the shoe size of a baby otter. I felt stuck. There I was, a grown-woman sleeping in a room that still had my pressed corsage from prom on my bulletin board.
Now, however, as I pack in my final days before moving to Boston, I’ve been meditating a lot on the idea of home. Soon, my home will be with my boyfriend, Korey, making each other risotto and spending our nights watching documentaries. And, while I’m driving forward and into my life–that white house will always be in my rearview mirror. We can make anywhere our home. This home can be a tent on a camping trip, it can be a hotel room, a bed at Grandma’s house, a tiny dorm room, or a slanted apartment. However, I will only ever come from one place.
Deep down, I know that I am not really leaving. I know that my heart will always be in that rearview mirror–looking at the white house with the big hydrangea bush and the purple mailbox. I am simply a mess of memories quilted together by the wonderful people of New Jersey. I am who I am because of Fourth Of July BBQs, movie nights in Chrysten’s basement, and meatloaf nights at Cassie’s house. I am who I am because of letter writing to santa on Christmas Eve in my house (even though my sister and I are both in our 20s), and listening to my mom play the piano downstairs. I am who I am because of playing catch with Dad after dinner, and sitting on the floor of my Grandma’s sewing room.
I’m scared, excited, and overwhelmed knowing that my life is shifting again–but I am so thankful to everything my hometown has ever given to me.