Not long ago, I bought my first car and drove across the country to this little college town in the middle of the Garden State. I felt like a pioneer in reverse, the golden paradise of California’s central valley shrinking in the rear-view mirror.
When people here find out where I’m from, they look at me like I’m crazy. They think of beaches and surfing and impossibly beautiful weather with bodies to match; a sun that shines year-round.
Oh, I say. I don’t come from that California.
First they don’t understand; then they’re just disappointed.
I don’t blame them.
Still, I want to tell them, California’s sun is like no other sun. This much is true.
I have lived in the northwestern corner of Spain, the south of France, a little town along the Mexican border. Nothing has felt so far from home as New Jersey, this great suburban land that is both comforting and infuriating in equal measure (in the way that suburbs so often are).
Still, I am trying it on as home. I keep trying it on, taking it off, trying it on again. It is mostly an exercise in trying.
But every so often, driving along the back roads that give the Garden State its name, I roll down the windows and swear I catch the scent of something that could pass for the farm air of the land I left behind.