She’s dressed in cool, muted colors to tone down her natural energy. She is perfectly manicured, every rough edge filed down and painted over to look pristine and untouched. She’s traded in her many eccentric accessories, for which she is so well known, for a scarce statement piece and crisp, elegant details. Her famous red is swapped for an appeasing taupe. She has to appear beautiful but not by her own standards. Strangers will walk and stare and say, “how lovely.” She is merely disguised; underneath the clean lines and fresh paint she is still herself: wild and warm, infused with art and zest and years of incense burned and ice cream had (sometimes twice a day) and stories written (and scrapped and rewritten) and black tea and hours-long Britney Spears dance-a-thons and memories upon memories. She is my childhood home.
My mom bought our house in March of 1997, before I’d existed for even a year. I’ve never lived anywhere other than that little cape cod on that cul-de-sac, and I realized that I’ve definitely taken that for granted. Through the never-ending, ever-changing tide that is life, my home on Montrose Avenue has been constant. It became my (still living) cats’ home when my mom and I (age 6) adopted them. I met my best friend on my front lawn on my 8th birthday. I hosted a farewell party for a friend moving to Utah after 8th grade. I cried on my kitchen table when, at 13 years old, I was told I had to have spinal surgery to correct severe scoliosis. It was where I returned after high school parties, good and not so good, to make pasta with my best friend before going to sleep. It was where I woke up on my 16th birthday to be surprised by 15 friends for a beach trip. It was also the setting for many bleak nights.
I laid on my bed in pitch blackness listening to Title Fight. I cried a lot. I told my mom I wanted to go to therapy because I felt I was losing my grip on reality at age 15. I worked through debilitating heartbreak. I fell into deep darkness and my home was the background for almost all of that time. I am much better than I was at high school age, and it’s weird to think about how horrible I felt for so long. But, my hometown and house unfortunately have retained a painful aura that creeps back inside of me and sinks its teeth into my heart when I come back from college for breaks.
Since I left for freshman year of college in August 2014, returning to New Jersey is something I’ve largely dreaded and I’ve been fairly vocal about the lack of allegiance I feel to the state and my town. And I knew that the second I graduated high school there was nothing tying my mom or me to Summit, where the property taxes are obscene and I don’t know many people anymore. When my mom told me she was finally, really starting the process of moving, I was ecstatic. I’ve bugged her about parts of the house that needed fixing up, about where the best place to move is, the whole she-bang.
She sent me a link yesterday to our house’s listing on Zillow so I could see how the house was staged, and I knew it would look different but I didn’t anticipate the bitter taste it would leave in my mouth. Maybe that was a product of my own pessimism, convincing myself there was nothing good in or about my hometown – even my childhood home. I convinced myself it was simply a prop, and that the most prevalent part of my growing up was when I was miserable, and that that tainted everything else. There is no doubt that my misery poisoned my life and the way I experienced it in profound ways, but seeing my home actually online and its walls stripped of my mom’s collection of masks and the Red Room painted taupe and the floors hardwood instead of carpet and the bathrooms totally foreign shook me out of my cynicism for a moment. I will miss my cute little house on my cul-de-sac (though I definitely will not miss being able to see my high school from my bedroom window) and I will miss all of the good times I had there(and maybe even some of the bad, because those shaped me too). I will be thankful that for nearly 20 whole years Montrose Avenue was there for me. I imagine I will say goodbye with teary eyes and a smile borne from knowing that beneath the crowd-pleasing makeover she is still the home I grew up in, and hoping that someone else will get to love her as much I have realized I do.