Sunday, May 25, 2014

New Jersey, My Star Cross'd Lover

I can't count how many times I've uttered the phrase "the only good thing to come out of New Jersey is Bruce Springsteen", but it's not a small number.  Admittedly, Bruce Springsteen is an incredibly redeeming force.  He makes a lot of things that could otherwise be bad, good.  But after this past weekend, I noticed that my view of New Jersey is changing.

The Boss holding Long Branch, NJ close to his heart.  
When in the course of Karla events, it becomes necessary to visit a place many times, without ever really wanting to go there, I start asking questions.  Why here? Why so many times? What am I supposed to do with my long and unsought relationship with this specific locale?

My 15-year history with New Jersey starts with my high school/college love.  His family moved there after he graduated high school and it became a place for which I subconsciously pined during the summers.  He was spending most of his year just outside of Philadelphia at college while I was stuck in Virginia, finishing high school.  We weren't dating after he moved, but the connection was too strong to be fully broken. Then, my long-time bestie got into Princeton, right near where my sweetheart's family was now based.  Stars align! We go to college. I visit New Jersey to see my friend, and the guy, and sometimes both of them at the same time.  Cherished memories are made on late night walks through the gorgeous streets of Princeton township, frat parties, PJ's Pancake House, runs on the tow path, singing on campus with my acapella group, and beautiful fall days.

Romantic pursuits with the guy end, my friend moves to Maryland and I live in Williamsburg and then move abroad. Then I date another guy who was stationed in the same general area of New Jersey.  I visit at least once a month. More beautiful fall days in Princeton township, a trip to the shore, more happy memories, and some pretty sad ones.  Then a friendship develops with a guy in my building who is from, you guessed it, the SAME AREA OF NEW JERSEY. He inherits a house that needs a lot of remodeling and starts going up there every weekend. More of my friends move to NYC, I hitch rides with him up to Jersey, finishing the trip  to Manhattan by train to go see them.

Then, my little brother gets engaged to a wonderful girl from Cranford.  I am in a car with her, driving to her mother and father's beach cottage in Manasquan for her bridal shower, only an hour east of where I spent most of my previous time in NJ and one beach over from the day I spent at the shore.  I am not driving the car for once. I am in the back seat,  free to stare out the window at all the familiar exits and turns and let the memories wash over me.  I run on the beautiful quiet boardwalk of Manasquan, the weekend before the madness of Memorial Day beach traffic sets in, in the cool morning, under a cloudless sky after a terrific rainstorm had blown through the night before.

Manasquan, NJ boardwalk view.  
The day after I return home from New Jersey my music is on shuffle and Titus Andronicus' amazing song "A More Perfect Union" comes on.  I think of the upcoming union of my little brother to his beautiful bride-to-be and smile at the appropriateness of the title. On this most recent listen I am struck with the overt biblical imagery, in which New Jersey is even likened to New Jerusalem.  For example:

"Because where I'm going to now, no one can ever hurt me
Where the well of human hatred is shallow and dry
No, I never wanted to change the world, but I'm looking for a new New Jersey...

...And if I come in on a donkey, let me go out on a gurney
I want to realize too late I never should have left New Jersey"

The entire album The Monitor is a musical treatise on the Civil War.  It speaks a lot about death and freedom and other things associated with war. Overall though, the album has a lusty, life-affirming sound. But I was thinking of that song, and about what New Jerusalem represents, and about New Jersey and what it has meant to me in my life.  Coming to New Jersey this last time was different from all the other visits. This time, it was a new New Jersey.

All my Jersey romances were not to be, though I fervently willed it otherwise.  My relationship with the state is shaded with memories of things that ended and stuff I'd like to sweep under the carpet, and yet, I keep having to go back there and confront them.  Okay God, I hear you.  I've put away the broom and fired up the blog.  That's how I end up making sense of my thoughts most of the time: Public confession.  How 17th-century American Protestant of me.

Manasquan mural at the north end of the boardwalk.  Photo credit to Clint Petty.  

I think I have successfully unmoored from the docks of the old loves.  They are forever a part of my story, each a beautiful port-of-call that I am deeply grateful for in a myriad of ways, but they are not part of what lies ahead on the horizon.  New Jersey is a part of my story now because my almost-sister is from there.  Her family and mine will be knit together through the bonds of marriage.  She is a part of my future, forever. I am in a new reality, a better, sweeter one with deeper love, gratitude and joy than I have ever known.  For its odd, secretively significant role in my life, I have to thank New Jersey and the people it has housed and brought into my life, its beaches, its green fields, its mass transit system, its quiet townships and sleepy streets, and yes, even the cities of Camden and Trenton, cities that challenge what it means to love.  You were the stages where my life before real love was set, you were the training ground and the obstacle course.  I don't leave you behind, but I make my peace with you and look toward the new New Jer(usalem)sey.

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