My Hometown

Maryhope Tobin

HEXBREAKER: Time Starts Now

My Hometown

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been back to my hometown and I’ve been to New York. When I was in Hatfield, I saw old barns and new crops. On the bus to New York, an angel sat next to me. So I’ve been busy.


But other people could see her and she had an iPhone, so probably not an angel. I don’t have a picture. It would have been weird to ask (would it, though?) . She’s beautiful, about 20 or 21, with long red hair. Her name is Kim, and she’s Israeli. I mention this because of my recent and unexpected fascination with Israel, listening to psytrance and such (see blog post “Israel”). It’s more of an obsession than fascination with Krav Maga. I’ve been learning Hebrew in a fairly half-assed way. Anyhow before my trip I’d researched the Upper West Side, where my hotel was, and one of the restaurants I highlighted is Israeli. So when this young woman sat down next to me on the bus to New York and started speaking Hebrew into her iPhone, naturally I assumed she was an angel, on the Peter Pan Bus to Port Authority to tell me that moving to New York is the right thing to do. And just my luck I couldn’t understand a word she said. Until she started speaking English, of course, and her English is way better than my Hebrew.


I mentioned in my last post that I was born in New York but never lived there. My hometown, Hatfield, is a farm town in western Massachusetts. But I lived in Maine longer than I ever lived in Hatfield – and I definitely don’t consider Maine my home. Not even close. But I lived in my last apartment for 14 years – longer than I lived in Hatfield. Since I got evicted I’m been consumed with the concept of home. Is it where you’re born? I never lived in Manhattan. Is it where you went to high school? I graduated high school in Hatfield but due mostly to my own gleeful and enthusiastic self-marginalizing, it never felt like it was my home.


My last apartment in Portland was the first and only place I ever lived alone. I grew up with three siblings and two parents, I lived on campus during college, and as an adult I always lived with a partner or future ex-husband. After my divorce I turned 57 Brackett Street, Apartment 5, into my home. None of my furniture matched, I had the remnants of three different sets of dishes, and the dining room table had a leg held on with duct tape. But I had dozens of plants, a nice big altar and that huge creepy cockatiel painting that belonged to my great-grandparents. Apartment 5 was mine. And for months after I got evicted, every time I had to leave somewhere, I always thought, “time to go home,” and that’s what I would see, Apartment 5. After a while I stopped saying “time to go home,” because I didn’t want to call anyone else’s home mine. But even now, I still see my dining room occasionally, when I think home. Last November I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo that took place in my old apartment. I never actually described the place, but it’s how it played in my head, and now that I’m rewriting the novel, I can’t imagine it anywhere else.


A couple of weeks ago I saw my hometown for the first time since 1994. Hatfield’s town center is eerily unchanged. I guess there are some pretty strict zoning laws, what with the postcard-perfect Colonials and Victorians on Main Street. Valley Street still ends in fields and barns and barns and fields. The S-curve sign on River Road is still riddled with BBs.


But Holy Trinity, the Polish church whose parking lot bordered my parents’ property, is vacant and AVAILABLE. I’ve never seen a church that was AVAILABLE before. There were some hideous McMansions on the outskirts of the “historical district,” and a rash of condos on Elm Street. But it was Hatfield, and I knew every house. Every time I go back to Portland, though, something else is different. Local businesses have given way to boutiques and restaurants the locals can’t afford. There’s construction everywhere, bigger buildings, more cars, longer red lights. My memories of Apartment 5 dissolve when I’m actually in Portland; all I really think about is desperately trying to stay out of the sun and not get my car towed while I was sleeping in it last summer.


And now back to New York. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, I had the epiphany “it’s time to go to New York” while I was sitting in my parents’ yard with my coffee and Poor Wee Leo the Shih Tzu. And the more research I did the better the trip sounded and the more excited I got. I finally had to make myself stop researching the trip. Then I cut back on scheduled events. Then I eliminated the scheduled events altogether. And I packed very little, and wore my big hat, and got a window seat and an angel sat next to me.


Finally! I thought. Validation! Kim was not an angel, but she was awesome and she was there. I got to New York and I walked wherever my feet took me and I drank terrible coffee and I drank excellent coffee and I got shin splints in my ankles and never did make it to Dylan’s Candy Bar. I do so love candy. But I rode the subway and my $139/night hotel room on the Upper West Side was a pleasant surprise. I ate at TLV on Amsterdam twice, and not just for the food. I may or may not have had a huge, instant and raging crush on the man running the place. The second time I ate there, I walked in and the hostess smiled and told me they weren’t open yet. I asked if I could use the bathroom, then got flustered and said I’d just go over to my hotel and come back. The man in charge stood up from the bar and barked “use the bathroom!” Yikes! I went down the stairs and the bathroom was occupied. I fidgeted a moment and walked back up. The man frowned. “It’s occupied?” I nodded. “Go,” he said. “Sit. We serve soon.” I sat at a sidewalk table. In a few minutes he came out and put set-ups on the tables. He looked sideways at me. “You are expecting someone?” I giggled and said “I wish!” He laughed and said, “you wish!” I saw a gorgeous smile and then I was too shy to look at him again. Except that I looked up once while I was eating and he was looking in the general direction of me. And Amsterdam Avenue. I didn’t look up again.


Angels beside me, or not. Badass, scowling, handsome men smiling at me, or not. No job yet. No place to live in New York. When I got to New York on Sunday and I walked from Port Authority to West 80th Street in the hot sun, I had a real and true epiphany. As I walked through Columbus Circle, I realized:


I wasn’t lonely. I was one tiny person in a city of 10 million people and I felt absolutely myself and more here than I have felt since my herb garden and writing desk greeted me every morning. Being homeless in Portland made me desperately lonely. The brief times I’ve gone through Boston by myself I’ve been adrift. Here in Springfield, at my parents’ house with no car, I’m desperately lonely, talking to two small dogs and invisible Facebook friends all day long. I walked around New York for four days this week. I realized I don’t want to live on the Upper West Side – I felt like I was in a town in Connecticut that was celebrating its annual “Ethnic Week.” I felt more and more here the longer I was there, though. Ankle-shin splints and subway-induced hot flashes notwithstanding, I was where I wanted to be. I was here. I need a job. I need a place. And then I’ll really and truly be here.


Sometimes an Israeli girl sitting next to you on the bus is just an Israeli girl sitting next to you on the bus. And sometimes, maybe, she’s not. So glad I got to meet you, Kim. Shalom