When people ask me where I’m from, my answer is usually Philadelphia. This isn’t true; although I was born there, I grew up in Williamstown, N.J. Home of the Braves and a gigantic Wal-Mart, its one of those small South Jersey towns no one outside of it knows too much about.
Moving away for college, it was much easier to say that I was from a bustling city than a sleepier hometown. After all, how could I explain the simple pleasure of a backyard bonfire to a person who grew up in New York City? How could I articulate enjoying a small-town life, yet simultaneously wanting to flee from it?
Clearly, I could see a future forming before my eyes. I could go to college there, become an elementary school teacher, and raise a family on the same streets that I was raised on. Many of my high school friends were generational; their parents and grandparents had gone to school together, had families side by side. It would be a safe choice, and to remain in the familiarity of my childhood town was a comforting thought. That route, while secure, made me feel…uncomfortable. There is something stifling about a small-town existence; perhaps it was due to the fact that there was never any new. In the years since I’ve left it, Williamstown has barely changed; it could easily be a snapshot from my senior year of high school. So upon graduation, I thought about that secure path, and ran from it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot I loved about my hometown, and still do. I love my friends and family there, and visiting them is a treat that I always relish. I enjoyed high school, with Friday-night football games and bon-fires on the weekends. I have so many memories connected to Williamstown; from carnivals and dance recitals, to summers spent at Hospitality Creek and winters sledding in the woods. I remember the treat of walking with my elementary school class to McDonalds, the mornings in middle school waiting for the bus, and my first day of high school, where my friends and I got hopelessly lost.
It exists in a time capsule, encasing all the memories of the years gone by. Strangely enough, I have multiple homes now; honestly for the past 3 years, I have felt that I have lived as a nomad. Part of my heart remains in Baltimore, the city where I’ve made my place at Loyola, and Newcastle, England, where I’m currently spending my life-changing year abroad. Soon, I’ll have a different home, as I emerge from college into the fuzzy and uncertain existence of post-graduate life.
Regardless of my own mixed emotions, Williamstown will always have the distinction of being my first home. Every time I visit now, I am struck by the sense of relief; relief that I left when I did, but at the same time, gratitude to having a place that I can feel innately comfortable in.