We leave Allston because of the bats. Most people leave Allston because they have gotten too old, and we have. But the thing that pushes us out of Rock City is that in the course of two weeks, we have not one but two bats in our apartment, and our landlord doesn’t seem to understand that this is an issue.
One night on the couch, Jon jokes that we should move, so we plug $1500 into the maximum rent search field on Craigslist, just to see what will come up. We don’t think to filter by location, so what comes up is a second floor apartment in a historic home on a quiet side street in Salem. It’s one of those fancy houses with the little plaque showing the date it was built and the builder’s name. 10 minutes’ walk to downtown, the listing says. The photos zoom in on an antique staircase, wide planks of original pine flooring, and two working fireplaces – one of which includes a brick oven for bread or pizza.
“This is too good to be true,” we tell ourselves. But we decide it might make a nice day trip.
I respond to the posting and the landlord calls me back while I am trying on sweaters at the GAP.
Walter, the landlord, tells me this house was actually built for his ancestor and has been in the family for more than a century and a half. “It’s special to us,” he says, “and we only want to rent to people who will take care of it. We want it to be special to our renters, too.”
I tear up, because I have not had a real home in a long time.
We end up chatting for a while – long enough that someone knocks on the fitting room door to let me know there is a line and could I please hurry up with my phone call.
That Saturday morning, Jon and I take the “scenic” route up 1A, past the airport, through Chelsea and Lynn. We laugh the whole way there, because of course we’re not moving up here. But then we turn onto the road that leads us through downtown, and it’s a game to shout out the earliest years we see on these beautiful houses with their date stamps.
North Salem, where the apartment is, is a little rough around the edges, but the street we’re looking for is lined with sugar maples just starting to turn their colors. Walter meets us out front, and I see how impressed Jon is with his beard and his knowledge of historic restoration carpentry.
Walter gives us the tour, but we keep raising our eyebrows at each other behind his back. We already know. If he’ll rent it to us, this is going to be our new home.
We give the commute a cursory rehearsal before we commit, but a week later Walter cashes the check that gets us the keys. We break our lease, and we leave Allston behind.
Our first morning on Buffum Street, we wake up early because we haven’t remembered to put the shades down, and the master bedroom is flooded with light. Outside, the sugar maples are on fire with October orange.
“I can’t believe this is our home now,” I tell Jon, and he kisses me, all wrapped up in fresh sheets.
This was nine years ago yesterday. Since that morning, we put down roots in Salem. And then we left.
Now, two years after abandoning Witch City for country life in Bolton, I am still not at home. We left because we needed more space. We thought the schools would be better in a more affluent area. We hoped our new location would be more convenient for our parents and siblings. We imagined we would settle in.
The truth is that we don’t. They aren’t. It isn’t. And we haven’t.
We miss the cozy, quirky apartment, where we grew up, where we threw a boozy cookout the day after our wedding, where I labored all day to give birth to our daughter, where Ella fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire the day we brought her home from the hospital.
We miss our friends, the amazing intergenerational circle of people I met at church, the badass women from my prenatal yoga class, the guys Jon played music and drank beer with, the kindred spirits who moved in downstairs and made the house a little community.
We miss the restaurants where we had become regulars. I have a picture of Ella, just a week old, in her car seat, perched on the big orange couch at the Gulu-Gulu. The waitresses who watched my pregnant belly grow were so excited to meet her in all her newborn glory.
We miss the city itself, the paths with the best views to get downtown, the alleyways with hidden shopping gems, the likelihood of stumbling on an outdoor concert or a magic show outside Old Town Hall, the bench behind the Peabody Essex Museum where Jon proposed on a muggy summer morning over ham and cheese croissants from A&J King’s Bakery.
We miss the North Shore, the sea breeze, the easy drive up the coast to Newburyport where we were married, the state park where we tramped through the snow for a winter picnic, the local birth center where we received such patient care during my pregnancy.
I know I am a large part of the problem. I never meant to leave New York permanently, and I still miss it like there’s a hole in my heart. Salem helped fill that hole. And out here in apple country, I feel an abyss of loneliness and of not-belonging in my chest.
I am grateful for our house. We are lucky to have found it, we are luckier to be able to afford it. We are lucky we are in such a privileged town, the town we thought would be perfect for us. I am grateful for our kind neighbors. I am very grateful for the wonderful school and amazing teachers who have taken Ella to their hearts here.
We aren’t unhappy, really. Not all the time. But if I am being honest, most days I still find myself thinking that I want to go home.