Rose: “You know, I kept losing that apartment every time I turned around. I would head east to the grocery store and turn west to get back again... and I would always be wrong. Always.”
- Film “Accidental Tourist”
For the later part of our winter vacation, I decided to take the kids to New York to see family. It’s been nearly two months since our last visit, and at least six weeks until our next, if we visit for Passover. My husband can only take so many days off from work, so we came without him.
When I travel to Long Island without my husband, instead of going all the way from Massachusetts, westward through Connecticut, and then taking the bridge south to head eastward to Long Island, I prefer to take the Bridgeport ferry in Connecticut, which brings me to Port Jefferson on Long Island. It costs about $50 but it shaves an hour or two of driving, part of it in New York City congestion.
At first, I was uneasy about doing the drive because it would be the longest I’d ever driven alone, but I’m used to it now. It’s funny when we enter Port Jefferson because that was the big town next to the University my husband and I attended for undergraduate and graduate school. Once I get near Stony Brook University, the route is the same as I did for all of those years. It’s like I’ve worn such a groove that I could do the commute with my eyes closed.
As I made my way down route 25A, something has always changed. This time I noticed that Strawberry Fields, where I had often stopped for coffee and a gourmet sandwich, is now Dave’s Catering. By the time I get to Kings Park, I spied a restaurant that had been the Longhorn Diner when I was a child, and had some other name that I can’t recall, is now The Hokey Pokey Diner. Hokey name.
Across from the ill-named diner is a bakery called Park Bake Shop. I always think it says “Pork” instead of “Park”, so when it says the food is Kosher; it surprises me for a second. After all these years, I should get it in my head that it’s Park since it’s in Kings Park.
The town also used to have an asylum called Kings Park Psychiatric Center, which was turned into a state park, called Nissequogue River State Park in 2003. People used to say it was haunted. If so, I wonder if the ghosts like the new bike trail.
Finally, I made it to the East Northport border, where I grew up. To the left (aptly named, Townline Road), I can meander through the roads where the dump used to be. But now it’s capped into funny-looking grassy hills and there’s an incinerator. To the right, is the nicer part of town on Bread and Cheese Hollow Road. Quaint name, right? But I continue on straight ahead on Pulaski Road into the town I lived in since I was nine-years-old, to the house that I’ve visited since I was eighteen-years-old.
Around age eighteen, I read Accidental Tourist by Ann Tyler. At the time, I remember being appalled that Macon’s sister, Rose was so used to living in her childhood home that she left her new apartment and husband to retreat back to the familiar. The husband eventually moved into the house, thereby saving their marriage. I could never imagine being in that kind of rut.
Looking back, it was accidental that I haven’t traveled more. I thought I’d go away to college, but my parents were finishing a messy divorce that cost my father a figure I can’t bear to write down. I couldn’t ask him for the dormitory money on top of tuition. My now husband decided to also commute to school to keep our relationship intact.
I didn’t mean to go to the same college for undergraduate and graduate school. After two years at another college, I finished my B.A. at Stony Brook University. I even attended a couple of other colleges when I was deciding what I wanted to for graduate school. But when my husband and I applied for programs, it was the only college that waived tuition and gave us stipends.
When it was time for my husband to do a post-doc, although he did get into some labs in New York City, the lab in Cambridge seemed like the best place for him. Since we’d never had much money, I wasn’t well traveled (my husband got to go to meetings, so he was more travel-savvy). The trepidation I had about moving forced me to confront the similarities between Rose and me. Even thought it was difficult to leave everyone behind, to go to a place where I had no friends, no job, and a three-year-old son to care for, I knew the change was good for me.
For those who have lived all over, who don’t rely on family, this may sound strange. And if you had asked me when I was eighteen, I would’ve said that all I wanted to do was get away from family and start anew. But I didn’t.
Two years ago, I attended the NESCBWI conference. The first night I went up to my hotel room; after I closed the door and went to settle in, I realized that it was the first time I had ever stayed at a hotel alone. Before then, I had taken vacations with my husband. I never needed to travel for work. So, here I was in my mid-30s, finally staying by myself in a hotel room. Last year, I got a roommate since there were two queen-sized beds. Might was well make friends and save on costs, right?
This is why I drive long distances, even though I hate it. Because I don’t want to be afraid to drive, like my mother is petrified to drive. She needs someone to show her how to drive to a new place at least twice, and it can’t be far from home. GPS has just made my anxiety driving to new places virtually non-existent. And although I don't like to fly, I love visiting once I land. My fears won't prevent me from living.
I don’t want to feel stuck. In a rut. This is why I write. Because writing, showing my work to others, editing based on their critique, and submitting is one of the scariest things I do. But I do it. I'm making a break from same old, same old.
* Same name as book by Ann Tyler