I told myself the day had finally come. I furiously cleaned out my room and packed up the car to head for New York. Plowing through states one after one with an overnight stay in North Carolina and then making my way to Baltimore. I remember stopping at a cousin’s with a plan to stay the night. Two hours passed and I said “I’m sorry – but I have to go.” I climbed back into my car, desperate to get home. Knowing home was just an 8 hour stretch away lit a fire under me and I was determined to drive through the night – making my way to 495 veering left at the end of the stretch in Manorville – to sunrise – arriving just before 4 am. My mom had moved to a new house. I followed the road to the end of the cul de sac – clambered through the dark and reached for a doorknob. It wasn’t the same knob I grew up turning but it felt familiar, just the same.
I woke up feeling like it was the first time I could breathe since I’d been gone. The air is different here. The air down south is thick and heavy. The sunlight streams in and it feels different too. Everything is infinitely better from this shrouded room – back in NEW YORK. I was ready to start my own welcome home tour.
The more I looked for old faces and things I grew up loving, the more I realized how much everything’s changed. The faces look dejected and tired from fighting so hard to stay and I wonder what’s happened. There’s an old world nostalgia that lives inside us that will always long for this place we call home. People all over always seem to be trying to escape their hometown but all of us fight to stay or eventually fight to come back.
There’s always a divide between the locals and the out of towners – each group viciously trying to preserve their right to what the east end means to them. The idyllic memories we fight to preserve are a little different for everyone but in them is always a feeling of safety. Coming here is to carry your home safe feeling in your back pocket. A feeling of comfort you’ve only known in your favorite jeans or a coveted family recipe or the floor beneath your feet in the bedroom you grew up in.
As things change here and the people I count on seeing move away all I’m left to rely on is the landscape and the way I know the backroads by heart. I look to the brick and the old whaling museum and the large trees and my John Jermain Library and I know I am home. There’s an arrogance deep inside me that feels like I own the place since I was born in Southampton – it tells me that I belong to this place and it belongs to me.
It’s the place you go when everything’s wrong and when everything’s right.
I’m convinced that no place will ever measure up or be as good as this. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up here and the sadness that lingers with the ghosts of my old main street is ok. It’s not enough to push me away. It does not frighten or offend. It simply tells me that I was lucky enough to remember those sweet golden years when there were ballet lessons at the Bridgehampton community house and video stores and when Javanation used to sit in the alleyway tucked away with Blackcat books.
My whole childhood seems to be a dream with bike rides and Long Beach and Barcelona neck. And then you grow up and find yourself with your surrogate family made up of childhood friends or strangers you marry yourself with for the night. There is real magic here encapsulated in drifting moments and secret kisses and never ending sand beds and life guard stands. My playground. I know why everyone who comes falls in love. I’ve come to accept it. The traffic and the smog. The people. Complaining is a part of my birthright but I can understand the drive and the need to come and hide away. To get away. To BE away. Whatever demons lurk beyond sunrise don’t seem to take up residence here. Violence, pestilence and desperation. When we see a hint of it we drive it out – fiercely protective…together. The ecosystem here seems to work with alarms ready to sound when we need to work together and then we retreat and spend time with our people – endlessly complaining again.
I know that while I grew up strangely, never really fitting in, that this place is undoubtedly my home. I stand in the shadows like a phantom whispering “I love you” and while I may not know your names I know I’ll recognize your face and that you’ll know mine.