Saturday, June 21, 2008
The wine tastes different in Jersey; it's smoother, and there's less bitterness, like I don't have anything to prove. In two days I've finished two bottles.
Coming home from college is weird because you're at once a visitor and a resident. I lived in this house for eighteen years, saw my family crumble and piece itself together the way that families always seem to manage, spent midnights in diners and noons snowed in. I've seen my basement get refurnished, a trampoline and basketball hoop find their way into my backyard, and the pictures in the upstairs hallway fade and curl around the edges. Coming home for the weekend, I get the sense of staying in a familiar bed and breakfast, where the owners know me well and the coffee's always prepared just the way I like it.
My mom, dad, and brother are at a Bar Mitzvah for the evening, so I have the house to myself. It's eerie; I used to be fine staying at home alone, but now I'm used to the sounds of lonely taxicabs trudging down Bond Street and desperate drunken voices shouting out at the break of dawn. I'm used to being three blocks from cigarettes and three floors above friends, but now I am surrounded by an old wooden fence and long, spanning stretches of suburban pavements. I haven't heard a sound besides the TV or the music from my laptop in hours. Every time I go upstairs and glance in my parents' bedroom, I expect to see a masked gunman glare at me, the way they do in horror films. Where am I?
Today I drove out to an outlet mall. The shopping went well--I bought a heavily marked-down shirt--but the place itself was contained chaos, the kind of people you find at Six Flags or waiting for the bus at the Port Authority. There were babies crying from strollers and large women in sweatpants, teenage girls looking for the skirt that will make them feel pretty, gangs of minorities banding around the stores that have become their stomping grounds; yet I was the only smoker. The way some people looked at me as I ashed outside Timberland, you'd think I was a cancer patient on my way to chemo. In a way, I might be. My point is that I felt like the only normal one, when clearly everyone else thought the exact opposite.
Lying here in my backyard, the porch light barely touching my reclined deckchair, I wonder what will happen to me after NYU. I don't think I'm going to grad school--why put off the inevitable?--so it's really a matter of where to start the rest of my life. Ideally, I'll be living in the city, but for all its impending debt and bureaucratic headaches, tuition provides a kind of safety net whereby I have an excuse for living in New York. Once I don't have to pay it anymore--or at least, once the new bills stop coming in and I can start paying off the loans--I can't help but feel that I won't really belong in the city.
The thought of coming back to my hometown, though...man, I just can't. Doing my shopping at Quick Chek, making half-assed plans to go to the shore or the mall, all that ostracism and loneliness, the memories of high school stalking me--all these premonitions rush at me, and I hole myself up in the city and quickly make plans to go somewhere, anywhere, let's just go and get too drunk to remember.
That's the weirdest thing about being home. I feel like a Monopoly piece. Right now I'm not really in prison; I'm just visiting. I get to enjoy the luxuries of being home by choice instead of by necessity, or because my four Jersey friends are busy. It's nice not having to get dressed all day if I don't want to, which I guess I can do in the city as well, but when you live three blocks from Soho it's kind of hard to not want to impress the passersby. Yet there's something menacing about being home as well; every building and parked car I pass seems to stare at me, warning, You'll come crawling back. I will be your life again. And then what? Back to square one? Back to freshman year of high school and thinking of New York only as an idea?
I can't do that. I won't do that. But I also don't know if I want to barely get by in the city, if it's worth it. I know, I'm an English major. New York is where I belong. But in this age of the Internet running everything and everyone being a mouse-click away, isn't it possible that New York isn't the center of the world anymore? Maybe there is no center. Maybe my center is elsewhere, and I'll be one of those twentysomething city-hoppers, bouncing from loft to loft in increasingly western towns, trying to fit this stupid puzzle piece I've crafted for myself. But that's new friends and new deli owners and new makeout spots and new bars and new everything.
Maybe I should stop worrying. Maybe center, for now, is right here, on this deckchair, my glass of wine slowly emptying and the crickets in the trees starting to chime in. I just want to keep this feeling, make this temporary respite permanent, and keep even the tiniest droplet in my wine glass so I can convince myself it will never be empty.