“I hate it here. I absolutely hate it here,” said my thirteen-year-old self, staring my mother straight in the eye. This certainly wasn’t her first round with an angst-ridden teenage girl. I can recall sitting ringside for a few fights between her and my sister. “In this corner, Aubrey, weighing in at 115 lbs, who just threw out an entire jar of mayonnaise. Annnd in the other corner, Momma Glo, weighing in at 130 lbs, who bought said mayonnaise and is madder than hell.” I’ll give it to my sister, her jabs were sharp, direct, and though she was quick tongued, Momma, master of the bob and weave, usually ended the fight with a knockout blow of “Go to your room.”
But this fight between my mother and I was different. I didn’t so much care about expiration dates in the refrigerator or going to the really-awesome-everyone-else-is-going-I’ll-be-a-loser-if-I-don’t birthday party, at least not yet anyway. This fight was caused by my unadulterated, persistent dislike for my hometown, The Cove. As many of you know, having grown up there yourselves, The Cove is a small, often forgotten valley containing four boroughs: Roaring Spring, Martinsburg, Woodbury, and Williamsburg. We have a grocery store, Giant Eagle, referred to as Big Bird by locals, two ice cream stops, Ritchey’s or Stock’s, which no one in Cove history has vocally expressed preference over one or the other. That just wouldn’t be right. And we have cows. We have a plethora of cows, readers. So many cows that everyone’s child’s first word is cow, and your first word was cow, and your daddy’s first word was cow, who was taught the word by your grandaddy, whose first word was cow.
At thirteen all I wanted was to move away from The Cove to New York City, where I would be on Broadway, live in a brownstone, and eat a fresh bagel every morning with my mocha-choca-yoyo-leroy-brown-bada-bing latte. I lived and breathed New York. When playing MASH with friends I would only give one option for PLACE TO LIVE, New York. When playing Barbies, mine was always visiting from New York. When given Christmas money I cut a whole in the lid of an old UTZ Pretzel jar and declared it my fund for New York. All I ever wanted was to leave The Cove for New York and when my mother finally confronted me, asking why I was so desperately unhappy all of the time, why I didn’t want to go outside, why I watched the same Liza Minnelli movies over and over again, why the show Friends was more important to me than actually making them, I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Because I hate The Cove and I can’t wait to leave and never come back.” I listed my reasons, I gave her my five year notice, and promised that I’d be out of her hair just as soon as I found an apartment for $20 a month. My mom stood still for a long time, looking out at the backyard her and my stepfather had worked so hard mulching that day. The dog was sun bathing with the cat, kid’s laughter rang through the air from the park, and the smell of burgers and garden zucchini drifted by. She crouched down, eye-level to me, pushed back my sun-bleached hair and said,”There’s no sense waiting for happiness, Olivia. A place is not going to make you happy, a person is not going to make you happy. You have one job and it’s to be happy. If you can’t do it here, I’m not sure where you will.” And with that she patted my head and went inside, the dog and cat close behind with a “Hmmph, yeah, what she said.”
That moment comes to mind so often anymore. From my first night at SUNY Purchase, five hours from home, where kids listened to Johnny Cash as a nouveau-hipster trend not because “Walk the Line” is considered a hymn in their homes, to my first apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I met my first cockroach family, learned the meaning of “hot and humid,” and cried myself to sleep.
My four years in New York went by in a flash and I honestly did everything I set out to. I attended Broadway shows, met some amazing playwrights, took on a big internship, wrote my own play, wrote a short film, lived in Brooklyn, learned the subways, had a mocha-choca-yoyo-leroy-brown-bada-bing latte, and fell in love. Wait, no. Nope, that last one wasn’t in the plan. I’m pretty sure I didn’t save all of my lifeguarding money for you to move to NYC and fall in love with a Russian. WHAT? Hold on, wait a minute. The only man you were supposed to possibly fall in love with in NYC was a deeply disturbed creative, who would set eyes on you and find that you and only you were the muse he’s been searching for all of his life, and you and only you could release him from his artistic shackles that have bound him to mediocrity. Hello! A Russian filmmaker? Simmer down, thirteen. You weren’t exactly listed under “Winning Best Cinematography” on his “When I Grow Up” plan either. But, believe me, you couldn’t be happier and you realized it about five days ago.
Last Friday was the first day in the last few weeks that Fil and I kept entirely to ourselves. We woke up late, made breakfast, worked on a puzzle, drank beer, and made Pad Thai. It was absolutely perfect and will hold as one of the best days of my life. It wasn’t because I was in a big city or because we achieved fairytale status, certainly not. It was because there with cheap beer, a mean little tabby cat, and damp clothes hanging on our windows and chairs because we ran out of quarters, it was there when I realized exactly what my mother meant 11 years ago. Nothing and no one was going to make me happy until I found my happiness myself and I have. I find it everyday in my writing, my students, my cobblestone streets, my neighbor’s laughter, my friends, my family, and I find it when I think of being back home in The Cove, sitting on the front porch, letting time stop.
I still have a ways to go when it comes to happiness. I can’t be happy every day. There are times when I miss my mom, dad, Dan, and my sister so much that it hurts. Just last night I thought of my family and couldn’t help but cry. I miss them so much. I miss The Cove, I miss Hemlock Hill, and at times I miss the past, but for the first time I’m missing it all and still completely happy. I wouldn’t change a thing.
So, Momma, dust off that New York City fund and send it on up here. We have to buy new tires. 😀