We’ve all seen a million places like this before – the standard garden apartment complex made with brick buildings, the same old rectangular windows, maybe a few intact shutters, and courtyards where we’d hope to see children playing.
I wish I could tell you somebody famous lived here at some point. I wish I could tell you it’s a small place that hasn’t changed much in the last 20+ years. But I can’t. Considering this is the place I spent the majority of my childhood, it’s hard to verbally explain the mixed emotions that spring from a simple drive around the old block. I’m nearing my 44th year of life, and sometimes I can’t tell if my first home existed at all.
I don’t want this to come out sounding like a multiple page rant or lament, so I will do my best to find the laughter in the despair as I often do.
Any other December 12th in any other year would have been the same… Get up at the ass-crack of dawn
Make a big, overly sugared mug of coffee
Scarf two bowls of Lucky Charms
Wait for my body to remind me I’m lactose intolerant
Fail to leave time to dry my hair after a shower
Walk out the door
Wonder why my skull is freezing
Shape young minds to never adult like I do
Teach adult minds to use their own words for a change
Go home, pass out, let everything happen again the next day.
But this particular December 12th, I had a ticket to see one of my most loved poets, Rupi Kaur, at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. She’s actually more than a poet. Most of her work and performances deal with some hard-hitting subjects such as depression, abuse of all forms, loss, identity, and female empowerment. This will all come into play later in this series.
It was a Monday night, and anyone who knows me would never expect me to be out of the house locally on a Monday night, let alone an hour and a half away from home. But much like planning vacations for myself, I rarely partake in literary adventures. That needs to stop immediately.
It was the ache-in-your-bones kind of cold, and I had time to kill between work and when the doors were supposed to open. So I made a spur of the moment decision to do a drive-around visit in my hometown of Eatontown, New Jersey.
Before I even got on the turnpike, I dropped my wallet, unawares, in a 7-Eleven parking lot. I left the store with my arms full of drinks, candy, and popcorn for dinner, and my wallet was wedged under my armpit. In my struggle to open the car door, the wallet fell to the pavement unnoticed because I was more worried about dropping my glass-bottled Frappuccino. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t she get a bag for her items?” Well, the great state of New Jersey, in its infinite wisdom, decided to ban plastic shopping bags more than a year prior – as if getting rid of plastic bags and straws is going to save the environmental shit storm we’ve created on this planet. I’m all for saving the environment, action always trumps inaction no matter what, but we’re not saving anything at this point.
Jersey is one of the few states that have adopted this ban, and it may seem like I’m bashing my home state for being blindly optimistic. I’m not because there are plenty of other reasons why any Jerseyan can talk smack about the garden state – taxes, tolls, deprioritized education, too many people, too many potholes, way too many assholes, take your pick.
Nevertheless, I am blessed to have grown up here. Not only can I travel to any other state and be assumed a…
pork roll/Taylor ham-eating mallrat,
I can occasionally be acknowledged as part of an east coast culture that fights back and survives anything that seeks to destroy it.
I needed a hometown trip to remind me of that.
Since it was December, the sky was already dark by 6 o’clock. The orange street lights made an eerie, glowing haze even though the air was bone dry. Despite the darkness, everything could be seen clearly. For some reason I can’t explain, the courtyard looked more recognizable in the dark than it did the last time I saw it during the day.
If you look at the building on the right side and find the top window on the left side, that was my living room window. The one thing that automatically pops into my mind when I think about that living room is the shaggy, putrid orange carpeting that would be considered retro and fashionable now. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t mind seeing it in my bedroom now – definitely not the living room.
As far as I’ve seen on the company’s website, the floors are an up-to-date hardwood now, and the 70’s style, metal kitchen cabinets and old appliances received a dramatic upgrade. Still, when I think about the inside of that apartment I will never see again, everything is the same – as if it has to stay the same in my mind or else it never happened.
35 years later I see my Dad dozing off on the couch listening to Tom Brokaw. Once my Dad goes to bed, I see my Mom basking in the glow of Highway to Heaven. I see the huge coffee table with the four removable panes of glass on the top. There were more crumbs underneath the frames of those glass squares than you would ever find under the seat of your car. I see the small Christmas tree my brother and I decorated with Voltron lions made of cardboard. I’ll never let go of the time my brother decided to wake me in the middle of the night wearing his Jason Voorhies hockey mask and how badly I wanted to elbow him in the lip for doing so. I miss the holiday parties with the neighbors my family and I haven’t spoken to in decades, and I miss my mom telling me to stop sticking my tongue out while doing homework at the coffee table. Occasionally, I wonder if I still stick my tongue out when I write since she’s not here to catch me.
I guess it’s a good thing I’d never have the guts to knock on the current tenants’ door and ask to take a quick look inside. Number one, that is simply not the world we live in now. I don’t want to contribute to some psycho killer’s nipple belt. Number two, I’m not in the mood to see the fake granite countertops, the shiny wood floors, and the new vanity sink in the no-longer-blue bathroom. What it was is what it will always be, and I good with that.
The flagpole my brother pulled a Flick from A Christmas Story stunt on is gone, but the tall tree that faced our living room window remains. It seemed to have lower branches back then. I might have been the only kid in the neighborhood who never climbed that sucker, but I can’t say I never tried breakdancing on broken down cardboard in front of it. I freakin loved the movie Breakin. Regardless, when you grow up with a brother and a group of his friends who are six years older, you get into whatever shit they get into, good or bad.
This was the backyard – the communal backyard I would say. A vast majority of my time with family and family-friends was spent in this backyard. Today, it’s doubtful both the upstairs and downstairs units amicably share this space. If I’m wrong, I will be quite happy being wrong.
But there was a time when this was the most lively backyard in the entire complex. Without that sidewalk, I never would have learned to ride a bike, with and without the training wheels. Parties, weddings, barbecues, car washes, kiddie pools, street hockey, lightening bug catching, remote control car racing, snow shoveling, and parking space claiming (after the shoveling) were only a few of the good times that this area housed.
Now only the ghosts remain. But hopefully the ghost of the old apartment manager/land lady is long gone. That pit viper hated every human being on Earth and went ballistic when my mother and the neighbors tried planting a vegetable garden. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Karens were alive and well in the 80’s too.
I’m going to pause there on my little poetic journey down memory lane for now, but look out for the next chapter coming soon. Until then, it’s Taylor Ham in the north, pork roll in the South.
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