Back in November of ’90 my family moved from New Zealand to Fairfax, VA and by December we were registered in school. As an American who only lived in NZ for two years the adjustment was a surprise. I’d gone to two private all girl schools in Wellington-Chilton St. James and Marsden College where I’d learned to stand when an adult walked into the classroom, where we started every lesson with a “Good morning, Mrs. So and So” in a singsong voice, where I tied a tie around my neck every winter morning and wore a horrifyingly ugly striped cotton shift every summer day, where boys were no longer part of my everyday life. An American middle school was a total mindfuck. The kids were so…. unruly. Robinson Secondary was the 8th school I’d attended and I was an 8th grader, a perpetual New Girl who always wanted to belong. Instead I felt like an outsider.
My nuclear family was close growing up. When we moved during the summer my sister and I only had each other as playmates until school started and we could meet kids. My parents had to constantly try and make new friends in each location. Now that I’m an adult I know that it takes several years to really find your people after a move. My folks would just get to that place and have to start all over again. At home we were tight, we were a team, we belonged to each other. But I wanted to feel that beyond our front door.
As a new kid I’d wistfully watch my classmates who’d know each other their whole lives and be eaten up with jealousy. I wanted familiarity and comfort with friends. I wanted a history. I wanted to be known.
That school back in 8th grade ended up being my last before graduating high school, it was a secondary school, 7th-12th grades. And for the first time I felt I belonged, it was extraordinary. Yes, it was the theater group so I wasn’t popular or anything, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d found my people. They were sort of misfits as well. And I loved them with all my heart.
It was the third time we’d lived in Fairfax County over the years. Fairfax was headquarters for my father’s company so it always felt like home base. I learned to drive there in the early 90s and the main interstate in that area is I95. Our house was only about 7 or 8 miles from 95. Turns out the college I went to was very close to 95 as well. Knowing I could get on that road and not get off until I was back in Fairfax helped quash my homesickness that first fall at Sarah Lawrence. And then I moved to the city. When we’d drive down to Z’s family in NC we’d be on 95 for hours. Yes, traffic is hellacious on 95, the Jersey Turnpike is filled with potholes and too expensive and the rest stops are disgusting, that section from Maryland into Delaware is confusing as hell, but it feels like home. I know it and somehow it knows me.
In 2006 we moved up to Providence. Just three hours on 95N from the city. It became part of my daily commute for most of the stores I worked at while with Whole Foods. I took it north to Boston and towards Framingham, I took it south to Cranston. My parents hadn’t lived in the house in Fairfax for more than a decade at that point, but during my commute I would still think about how connected the road made me to Fairfax, or how I could just drive three hours south to the city and feel like I was home again.
When we moved to Syracuse it was the first time in almost 20 years that I didn’t live a few miles from the road that felt like a second home. It’s strange that an inanimate object can make me feel like I belong. It sounds crazy, but I miss 95 like I miss my friends. I’m an outsider again in Syracuse, slowly building connections. We love it here and we can see a long term future for our family in this community. But that shorthand, that personal history takes a number of years to establish.
This weekend we drove to Sharon, MA to visit our amazing and perfect and adorable and brand new niece.
This sign made tears prick in my eyes. I was giddy with excitement to see my old friend, to be back home.
This also made my eyes fill with tears. He was pretty damn gentle with her.
I love being part of this family.
Sweet, sweet Graylyn. Man, she made me want another baby. Thankfully Z was able to keep his wits about him and told me I was insane.
And home again in time for a bike ride before dinner. Syracuse is where I gave birth to the boys, it is the only home they have ever known. We are putting down roots here and I’m glad. I can’t wait until I feel like I really belong.