On Going Home
by Bibi Deitz
My mother lives one hour from New York City, where I live and where I was born. She lived in the city for 20 years, the last 12 of which were with me — in the East Village and on the Lower East Side, then in Windsor Terrace and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. And then she moved (along with my brother and me) to New Jersey. And there she has stayed, while I’ve followed a scattered trajectory (Vermont, Colorado, New Mexico, for a hot minute the South of France).
When I moved back to the city a year and a half ago after living in Santa Fe for seven years, my mother and I were so excited: Now I would live an hour’s bus ride away. I made my prodigal-daughter return, but with a twist: It’s rare that I see my mother more than once a month. Sometimes a couple of months sidle by without any face-to-face contact (save an errant FaceTime or two while walking down the street, perhaps).
I think there are several reasons for this. First, I have settled in Brooklyn, which is actually two hours from the New Jersey town in which my mother lives. The bus takes an hour (on a good day, without any traffic), but the train from Brooklyn to Port Authority Bus Terminal doubles the commute.
Also there is something daunting about “going home,” though I have always considered New York my home more than New Jersey. I lived in New Jersey on and off for 11 years, between the ages of 12 and 23. Those years were fine, but I’ve always had a bit of a grudge against the state: It ripped me away from my beloved New York. I returned for dance class every weekend; but still. I found it profoundly unfair that I had been relegated to New Jersey, a place I saw as vastly inferior to my home state from a young age.
And then there is the consideration of family itself. I love my mother beyond measure. She’s amazing, more of a friend than a mom at this point. We talk or text nearly every day. But family has an intense element to it. As much as I miss my mother when she’s not by my side, I also like to be on my own turf. She recently visited my new apartment in Brooklyn for a few nights, which was wonderful. But the mix of being in the house where I felt so stifled as a teen, being with family and being in this tiny rural New Jersey town where I never felt at home can be difficult.
Finally, there’s this esoteric quality to New Jersey: I can’t quite articulate it, but when I am there I feel different from when I am just about anywhere else. I blame this not on family or memories but the state itself: I simply don’t like it there. Blame it on its aura or whatever.
I know this feeling is not related to my family because I don’t feel it when my mother visits me. Quite the opposite: When my mother was in my cozy new home last week she brought so much joy, showering me with gifts for the house and hanging out while I wrote in the afternoons. Her presence across the table at my favorite café or across the room in my living room while I wrote was lovely: comforting, cheerful.
Recently I planned to take the journey to have a sleepover at my mother’s and attend a rummage sale in the morning. It’s not any old tag sale: a conglomeration of tents occupy a grassy lot the size of a football field and I always find the best vintage furniture and clothes. I planned to hold my breath, trek to the bus station after work and dive in.
There is some menace to that liminal space through which I pass as I sail along Interstate 78 on the bus toward home, or one iteration thereof. It’s never felt like home, and it will likely never be home again, but at one time it was home. Plus, the location where one’s immediate family lives often holds a connotation of “home,” no matter if it really is one’s place of residence or not. That menace is based in a feeling of not-knowing. There are so many unknowns, from the possibility of getting stuck in traffic (NBD but infuriating) to the possibility of getting into an argument with my mother or brother (hasn’t happened in a long time, but the threat remains) to the possibility of falling into a depression (again, it’s been a minute, but New Jersey still holds the perhaps-promise of a state of doom and gloom).
I didn’t wind up going home the other day. It wasn’t only the trip, the rigamarole of going to the bus station and waiting on line and sitting in an itchy seat next to a person who would probably be doing something annoying. It was also pouring and I’d had a stressful day and I wanted to go home and make butternut squash lasagne and curl up with a book. So that’s what I did.
The nice thing is that my mother is the most understanding mother in the world. She was actually congratulatory when I called to tell her the news: That’s great, she said. The rummage sale is going to be insanely muddy anyway, so good on you.
I can’t say when next I’ll go home, or “home,” as home these days is at my excessively comfy spot in Brooklyn. I’ll see my mother next week, when she brings another load of furniture to me. And perhaps that’s the way it’ll mostly be for now: She’ll come here, and I’ll be happy to have her. She misses New York and loves having a reason to drop by.
I’ll go back to New Jersey, of course. I love my mother, and I know how much my visits mean — to her and to me. There is much to be said for seeing family regardless of the emotions it brings up, or even in celebration of those emotions. Family always makes me think of what Owen Wilson says in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited: “I want us to be completely open,” he tells his brothers, “and say yes to everything, even if it’s shocking and painful.” Indeed.
Bibi Deitz is a writer, editor and native New Yorker. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from Bennington College and lives in Brooklyn. Recent work has appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, Bustle, Vice, Bookforum, The Rumpus, Berfrois and BOMB.