Years ago said with embarrassment. A joke of a town. Now it rolls from my tongue between puckered lips. I imagine dropping the H, adding a French inflection. O-Bo-Ken. Proudly, I say it. My home now.
I have come to believe that home is a tricky concept. Once I thought it synonymous with ownership. Of things, carefully chosen for their impact on others. Of a name printed on an official document. How wrong I was.
Now I think home is made by repetition. The climbing of the front steps. The dishes returned to the cabinets. The food that slides across the shiny white counter. The toddler splashing in the bath. Each event identical to a previous moment and so it seeds in our brain the satisfaction and safety of the familiar. It is not related to things, only tangentially connected to place. It is created by repetition but nurtured by contentment in yourself and your relationships.
Soon, I will no longer own a house, nor have my name attached to property in any meaningful way. Does that make me homeless? Of course not. I am blessed to live in a beautiful house, my possessions winnowed, my comfort assured by loving family. How fortunate to be so safe and yet so free.
Mine is a life of verticality. Of risers and treads that make up my day. Our brownstone is its own Zumba class— the needed item is always several floors away. And the distance I cover daily, the whole of this town (one square mile!), then into Manhattan, where I’ve found I can walk forever.
But back to Hoboken. I have learned things about my new home.
The town has changed, is changing. Whether this is good depends, I suppose, on one’s length of residency. The streets are dotted with houses that no longer sport iron flourishes. Nor window air conditioners. Beveled front doors are gone. As are aluminum awnings. Instead, the facades are smooth glass or tidy new brick with flush windows and austere railings. I know the inhabitants of these houses. They eat avocado toast and shop at the organic market. I am one of them now.
There are the winds of Hoboken. Yes, this is a thing no one notices but me. Like Aruba, the winds blow often. I picture myself living on an island.
There are several homeless men and a few women who live on the street here. I see them often, slumped in the doorway of empty storefronts, watching as I swing my bag of groceries. They are homeless. Surely we can all see that, and yet they return to the same dusty steps daily. Have they staked a homestead? Found comfort in the familiar sounds of traffic? Home, I think, is a fluid concept.
Visits to the indie bookstore—the literary heart of this town where generations mix and advice is dispensed.
I’ve found the best chocolate croissants this side of the Hudson.
And lovely new friends that have welcomed me warmly.
On weekend nights, the vibe shifts. The thirtysomethings have put their children and themselves to bed. The voices are young now. Students, I think. The music loud and impulsive. And the chatter of Spanish that whips among the couples strutting down Washington Street late into the night, toddlers asleep on their parents’ shoulders. I have passed many of them in daylight, sweaty from the labors of building this new Hoboken.
This is a town of fitness, of strollers and curly-haired dogs, of nannies and playgrounds and too little parking and a sense of community that makes my heart sing. The young women who support each other through the struggles of childrearing. The elderly man who sits outside the coffee shop and whispers Bella at every passing woman. Old Hoboken endures as the new one grows around it. I endure while a new version of me sets forth.
I feel at home here. I have never been happier.