I’d be alone in the backseat of her Geo Tracker, but surrounded by stuff – Beastie Boys cassette holders, pom poms, duffel bags, water bottles. A stray pair of sunglasses. A scrunchie. I’d be alone, because even though the driver’s and front passenger’s seats were filled, the air would whip through the Tracker so fast it would build a wall between us, rendering me deaf in the backseat. And I would look out the windows and stare, and think. It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes, these memories of high school flood my canals. Today it’s of a fall day, junior year; of my best friend’s first car; of the country music I didn’t listen to. Of slurpees and study halls, coasting down the pine tree roads. Of a promise of more, more, more; so much more than Jersey offered.
I make fun of it all the time, and I’m allowed to, but the truth is there’s something about southern coastal Jersey that is overly formative. I am sure you can all say that about your hometowns, whether they are Midwestern or Californian or Canadian. I am sure you are feeling a pinch inside as I imply here that mine was different, special. I don’t blame you.
But there is something to a hard blue sky and a horizon of deep green pine trees. There is something to a Jersey Devil legend and unblemished, near-empty beaches. There is something to the cranberry bogs, the duck crossings, the grainy, sandy dirt that blows across empty football fields.
There is something to being a teenage girl riding alone in the raised backseat of her best friend’s car on her way to cheerleading practice, eating her fruit lip gloss off her mouth and wondering what on earth is in store for her.
I haven’t been to my hometown in nearly three months, and since then there’s been a hurricane that ruined some of my favorite places, a couple of holidays, an engagement. This weekend I’ll hitch a ride down the Garden State Parkway and keep my eyes open for the memories I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten.