These Streets Are Yours, You Can Keep Them

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I was in Philly for a wedding earlier this month, & I decided to turn it into a more of a vacation than just a quick weekend away. I couldn't find flights under $350, so I planned to make the six-hour drive to the City of Brotherly Love, but I knew that, exhausted & possibly hungover, I wouldn't be keen to make the drive back to Ohio the morning after the wedding.

And so I went to New Jersey for two days.

Specifically I went to Red Bank, where I lived for a year & a half - &, yes, where my ex-boyfriend still lives. I know what you're wondering: No, I didn't go for him. No, I didn't see him while I was there or even talk to him ahead of time. We were on good terms for awhile, & while I guess we still are, we don't talk anymore - which is, I suppose, the way breakups are supposed to work. I worried the whole time that I would run into him around a corner & that I'd seem like a huge creep for being there, until I remembered that people who live in the same cities break up all the time & do probably run into each other, so once wouldn't kill me. Anyway, it didn't happen.

And anyway, I didn't go for him. I went for me.

When I left Red Bank in November 2013 to live alone in Washington, D.C., we decided to try the long-distance thing. I went back to New Jersey for a two-week visit over Christmas, & when I went back to Washington, D.C., I never expected that I wouldn't return - but we broke up on January 4th, & that was that.

There are a lot of things I miss about living in Red Bank, even though I know that leaving was the right decision for me at the time. It's just such a nice place - quirky & cool, with a distinct little downtown full of cupcake bakeries & consignment shops & an indie movie theater & a board game store & the best taco place ever & Kevin Smith's comic book shop &... I didn't love living there, but that's not because it's not a great place. It is. And lately, I'd found myself missing it, like I'd never gotten to say goodbye - because I hadn't, I guess.

So I went back. I stayed in a teeny-tiny hotel room in an historic inn just steps away from my old apartment, on the base of the beautiful Navesink River. I had no plans except to do whatever the hell I felt like doing in the moment, which translated into: sleeping in, shopping, drinking a lot of lattes, eating multiple tacos & macarons, visiting an old lighthouse, wandering around parks in very cold weather, & driving by the beach because it was too cold to get out of my car. And then, when I didn't feel like doing anything anymore? I went back to my hotel room & slept, or caught up on my favorite TV shows, or wrote, or read magazines, or... did whatever the hell I felt like doing in the moment, like I said. And it was glorious.

For some reason, I'd been newly having a bit of a hard time with the breakup, despite the fact that it happened 15 months ago; I guess I've been having a hard time in general, with life. I worried that heading to the town formerly home to my now-decimated relationship would be depressing, particularly after a weekend of joyful celebrations of someone else's love. I feared I was setting myself up for sadness & wallowing & dredging up old memories that are better left buried. But you know what? It was some of that, I guess, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Mostly, it was just cathartic & quiet & perfect.

I listed to Bastille's "These Streets" a lot throughout my visit, setting it to play on repeat as I walked up & down the streets of a town I used once knew so well. A lot of those old memories did come flooding back, but instead of pushing them down, I spent some time with each of them, turning them over in my mind, savoring them, & saying goodbye to them. It was bizarre, really, to know that my ex-boyfriend (& our cat) was just a few miles up the road, & to realize that not only do I not know this town anymore, but I don't know him anymore, either. I cried more than once, remembering the people we were & the life we had & the future we tried for; they all seem so, so far away, like someone else's story.

It was hard sometimes, yes, but it was peaceful, too. Mostly, it was closure, the kind that sticks. And as I hummed along to the album that got me through that breakup, I knew this was the last song of my personal soundtrack - that I wouldn't need to come back to Red Bank again. I might want to, maybe, but I didn't need to anymore. This did it.

Goodbye, New Jersey. You're a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

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