We have received word from US Immigration that my application to join Jersey girl permanently in America has been provisionally approved! There is still a face to face interview to determine that this is a legitimate relationship and a medical examination to confirm that I’m not patient zero in the next Ebola scare but these should be mere formalities.
So, it looks like I’ll soon be living in the ol’ US of A with the wife of my heart (shortly to be my actual wife).
It’s been an interminably long wait but, honestly, I would wait ten years for just an hour with this woman, she’s everything to me.
Way back at the very beginning, I told Jersey girl that I am basically a collection of flaws and defects bandaged together into the shape of a man. I still tend to believe this. However, true as it may be, I no longer allow it to define me.
To be human is to acknowledge that you are painfully flawed but to nevertheless strive to rise above your weaknesses and find your defining strengths. Jersey girl too is a mass of flaws as is every single human being I’ve ever met. What separates Jersey from all the others for me is just how insightful, empathetic, tender, intelligent, creative, and generally wonderful she is in spite of those flaws.
What easily makes this relationship the most important of my life is that she enables all my better qualities, allowing those to rise above my baser ones. With her, I am more patient, tolerant, thoughtful and kind. I’m not saying that I was devoid of those qualities before she came along but I was far less cognisant of them.
Before Jersey girl, I was so much more inclined to see the flaws when I looked in the mirror than those qualities that make me a worthwhile member of the human race.
Isn’t it awful what life can do to us? Isn’t it such a pity that so many of us wander the Earth confirmed in the belief that we are worthless even irredeemable? Worse still, isn’t it a tragedy that in so many cases, it is our own parents who have instilled this negative self-image in us?
I once read that children are like a crystal champagne flute and that we as parents cannot handle them without leaving our fingerprints upon them. This is inevitable but the important thing is to handle them in such a way that they never have any of their beauty and uniqueness chipped away. And to put a crack in them is the most unforgivable sin of all.
As a parent, I find this terrifying. It would destroy me to think that one day my son might come to the conclusion that his own flaws stem from my poor parenting skills.
This post is not really about parenting, however, but rather about who we become and how we accept that person we see every day staring back from the bathroom mirror. No one is more aware of his flaws than I am. However, since I embarked upon this shared journey with Jersey girl, I have learned so much more about myself than I’d ever allowed myself to know.
This is the great reward that this soul love has brought to our lives. The world can be a cold, even cruel, place at times but if you find the one whom can see your strengths and reflect them back to you; you can discover the tools you need to navigate the pitfalls of life.
As I freely admit I have way too many faults but I no longer let them drive me. They are in the back seat now where I can cast the occasional wary eye over them in the rear-view mirror. And in the front seat, at my side, is Jersey girl.
Neither of us knows where the road leads but that isn’t what’s important. We’re on the road together and that’s all that either of us ever wanted.
What is the element that allows a love between two people living an entire world apart to survive over time? What keeps them both in orbit around each others hearts when even the simple pleasures of touch and smell are denied to them? When either could reach out and pluck the fruit from a nearby tree, what keeps them yearning and longing for that which grew under a different sky?
I cannot speak for anyone else but I know exactly what has kept my heart so singularly engaged. It’s the simple fact that from the moment her typed words and my typed words began to flow together, everything began to flow together.
There’s a feeling that borders on prescience, which seems to take over when the energy is just right. You stop wondering what you should say next and just say it. And, in that energetic flow, it often ends up being both the one thing the other wanted to hear and the truth you’ve never spoken.
That’s how it was with us, right from the first. And once we recognised it, the flood gates opened and our true selves came tumbling out. It was heady and scary and the most wonderful thing either of us had ever experienced.
Once you’ve tasted that drug, you know there’s no going back. No other relationship you could ever contemplate would have a hope of fulfilling you in the same way. You are caught in the tender entanglement of a love that’s simply too good to lose.
That’s what has sustained us over all these years, what continues to provide the strength we require to abide the long nights and the cold winters of separation.
Home seems to be a theme for me of late. As we wait to hear back on our visa request, that word ‘home’ has never seemed more important. I’ve said many times on this blog that home is not a place it is the people you surround yourself with. Only people can give you your sense of belonging, of being where you are meant to be. Geography can’t do that, at least, not for me.
Jersey girl and I have spoken many times about where we would eventually like to settle down. There are quite a few places that have a lot to offer but one that we have both fallen in love with is Bethlehem PA. Situated in the Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem is a little town with a lot of history. It was the birthplace of Bethlehem steel, “the steel that built America”. The Moravian book shop on Main Street is the oldest continuously running bookstore in the world! I’ve written about the town on several occasions and posted copious numbers of pictures too.
This time I just want to focus on one particular day, the day Jersey girl and I went out specifically to see if this was the sort of town we’d like to settle down in one day. We decided we’d just walk around and get a feel for the streets, see if our particular version of home could thrive in a place like this.
From the moment we got out of the car, we found ourselves immersed in the place.
The houses run the gamut from colonial cottages to Victorian mansions, the town having been established in 1741. The streets are tree lined and broad and the town center is steeped in its historic past.
The Moravian Star can be seen everywhere (not surprising considering the significant part the Moravian church played in the town’s history).
After wandering around for several hours we found a wonderful little Celtic pub (The Red Stag). The place is run by an expat Brit who, upon hearing my accent, told us he makes quite frequent trips down to Australia (He’d just the week before returned from my old home town of Canberra in fact) for, of all things, hockey tournaments. It really is a small world sometimes.
The beer and the food were delightful and made the perfect cap to a wonderful day. We headed home both in full agreement that we could seriously consider Bethlehem a contender for our future home.
For years at a stretch, I was locked down tight, living at the furthest distance possible from my own creativity, expending all my mental energy just trying to convince myself I was living the life I chose rather than the one that I let choose me.
I would stumble along for long periods of time fooling myself that I was happy; happy with my job, my friends, my girl but it was mostly a con – I was miserable. I always knew when things were coming to a head, though, because I’d start writing again.
That thing I’d suppressed had grown restless in confinement, it wanted out. Words would start to explode out of me like arterial blood from a fatal wound, fatal for my sham life.
It was at such times that my writing became the most honest and the most weaponized. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone but people did get hurt. It seemed no one could read my words without asking, “is this me? Is this how he sees me?”
I burned a lot of bridges, which isn’t just a cliché; it’s a tactic of war. I guess it was really me I was fighting but Christ, the collateral damage was excessive. In the end, everyone left as I’d always known they would. No one can long love someone who does not care about himself.
And why didn’t I care? The simple answer was years of emotional and verbal abuse doled out by a step who thought love was expressed best by intimidation. I lived under the roof of a man who was the absolute king of the castle and would brook no challenge to his divine right to rule.
He was always toughest on me because I was the smart one, I could see through to the ignorance he tried so hard to hide behind his superior disdain. He never missed an opportunity to let me know how worthless and good for nothing I was. Eventually, I internalised his voice and carried it with me through my life’s endeavours.
Fortunately, by the time I met Jersey girl, I’d dealt with most of that. I still wasn’t living a creative life but I wasn’t living a haunted one either. And then the true miracle happened. I showed her my deepest darkest writings and she just said, “more.”
From that moment on I started writing every day and I haven’t stopped.
I’ve been remembering some things more vividly lately, little gems, exquisite moments. That long kiss in the ancient antiquities hall at the Metropolitan, holding you and talking in whispers on the couch as that first visit was coming to a close, pulling you into the backseat of your car at Philly Airport minutes after reuniting.
There are a thousand precious moments such as these. So many that they can blur together into a kind of amorphous sea of happiness. But, quite frequently, a perfect crystal of memory rises up and presents itself for my delectation.
Often these can be intimate, too personal to write about in any meaningful way. Some, however, are more innocent, though, no less potent for that. I think often of the day we wandered the back streets of Frenchtown just looking at houses and imagining a life shared under the roofs of several places that caught our eye and set us dreaming.
We did the same a year or so later in Bethlehem PA, a gorgeous place (in parts at least) that neither of us had trouble imagining as a future home. Yes, our dreams can be very domestic, even white bread; so what? You take your pleasure where you can find it in this increasingly insane world.
Our many drives along the Delaware River are another highlight for me. The countryside down through there is so gorgeous and the little towns and villages so picturesque that almost every mile is burned into my memory.
Our day with the kids on South Street in Philly, our OMG moment on South Street in Freehold, Ben’s Delicatessen in New York, Strolling the boardwalk at Asbury Park (and the Beach bar, oh, the Beach bar); so many memories that rise and recede, only to rise again.
All of this you have gifted me my beautiful Jersey girl; a life, a sense of place in an ocean of meaninglessness. And so I want to take this opportunity to thank you, to let you know how much you have given and how much it all means to me. I have no idea where the rest of this journey leads; I only know you are the only soul in the world I want to share it with.
I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin’ and born anew It wasn’t the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me It wasn’t the bitterness of a dream that didn’t come true It wasn’t the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
No no baby it was you
The wait to hear news from the US Government as to my visa status has me on my last nerve. It literally feels like we’ve been stuck in this holding pattern forever. I find myself running through every imaginable negative scenario in my anxiety riddled mind and so today I’m going to write about my favourite day in Jersey to keep my spirits up.
My favourite day was one I spent with Jersey girl on my fourth visit. Now, it’s not at all a simple matter to reduce all the amazing times we’ve shared down into one perfect day (I’m not even claiming that Jersey girl and I share the same regard for this particular one) but after much weighing up, I’m pretty certain this is mine.
My fourth visit was my second summer spent in Jersey And so, of course, we had a trip to the Shore planned. Though I’d managed to be in NJ three times before this, I had only visited the much vaunted Asbury Park once…at night….in a storm. We’d had a great meal at a cool Cuban restaurant (which we’d had pretty much to ourselves because – storm) but all I’d really seen of note was the squat outline of the Stone Pony directly across the way from the restaurant.
I’d wanted to go in, but there didn’t seem to be much happening (again, really bad storm) so I missed out on getting a genuine Asbury Park experience then. This time would be different.
The moment had come for a proper expedition. I wanted to see what the heartland of the Jersey shore sound was really all about. Unfortunately, there weren’t any Jersey shore bands actually playing that month* so our plan wasn’t so much to see a band as, to get to know (at least in my case) the landscape that had informed the music of legends like Springsteen and Southside Johnny. I wanted to tramp the streets that were so familiar to them and which permeate much of their music.
We arrived on a pretty perfect sun-drenched afternoon and parked about a block from the Stone Pony. We decided to head south down Ocean Ave first, taking us past the door of the Pony (which gave every indication of being closed) I was struck again by how very unattractive the building is. The impression I’d gotten on my first sighting of it over a year earlier had been of a bunker that someone had painted white. It was a little less stark in the bright light of a summer’s day but only just.
I had a particular destination in mind for our first stop, the famous carousel house. I’d seen online pictures of the ornamental ironwork that bedeck it and was keen to get some shots of my own. I wasn’t disappointed either, it’s a fine example of the early twentieth-century obsession with mythological subjects.
I know I’ve covered this ground before in a previous post but what I didn’t go into then was just how amazing it felt to be doing it all with this gorgeous woman I call mine. Every aspect of that day was made a hundred times richer simply because she was there experiencing it all with me. This is true anytime we do something together but especially true for this particular day; my favourite day.
My girl has New Jersey in her blood. She is the very embodiment of the Jersey spirit. Some people try to deride New Jerseyans, make risible everything about them that makes them unique. To those people, I would offer a heartfelt go fuck yourself (yes, that Jersey spirit is contagious).
NJ is the state that gave the world the Ivy league Princeton University (where the great refugee from tyranny Albert Einstein found a home) as well as the attitude that informs TV shows like The Sopranos. And both of those disparate elements are seemingly present in the DNA of the average New Jerseyan.
This dichotomy is also at the heart of Jersey girl. She constantly surprises and continually delights with her mercurial shifts, like cloud shadows moving fast across a landscape.
This particular day was full of smiles and easy laughs. As I took my time over the images of the carousel house and the adjacent ruin of the old casino, Jersey girl watched on with her wistful smile and patient contentment. That’s the word for the mood of that day, contentment, we were both feeling it and it was blissful.
When I’d captured all the images I could find, we wended our way back north up Ocean. I kept stealing looks at her as we walked. I doubt a day will ever dawn where I look at her with anything less than wonder. And I will never understand why she chose me.
Our wanderings took us past the tiny Wonder Bar and we commiserated with each other over the fact that we’d missed (by just three days) Springsteen’s surprise two-hour set with Joe Grushecky and his band at this very club the previous Saturday night.
My Springsteen obsession is a source of constant amusement for her but she gets it and loves the passion it invokes in me.
We then wandered past the Paramount theatre and into the Convention centre. By this point, we were ready to imbibe and settled onto a pair of stools overlooking Asbury beach on the veranda that houses the famed Beach Bar.
As I mentioned, the day was warm and beautiful and the beach before us was packed with sun worshippers. Sitting there with the love of my life on the shore of an ocean that has nothing to do with where I come from, I found myself marvelling at the twists and turns of my life.
I don’t think I even realised in that moment that I’d kind of been here before. I’d watched an important dream sequence (who doesn’t remember Big Pussy the talking fish?) play out on this very spot in an episode of the Sopranos years before I knew Jersey girl (or Asbury Park) even existed.
We sat there enjoying the view until we grew hungry and then decided to drive up Cookman Avenue to the commercial district and, after a little wandering, found the best Italian restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. This is saying a lot because Melbourne’s Italian restaurants are world famous but this one had them all beat.
Cibo e Vino on Mattison Avenue is simply sublime. Though it was a little early for dinner, we’d worked up quite an appetite in our wanders and so were in a kind of ecstasy at the quality of the food that was served up.
All of this, I got to do with her. It may not seem like such an amazing day when it’s written down like this but there were so many more layers to it than can be told. The entire day has lived in my memory ever since and always brings a dopamine flood to my joy-starved brain.
So there it is, my favourite day. This blog post was just the shade of an impression, a thumbnail at best but I hope I’ve given at least a sense of it for you.