As I was photographing the side of the house where I grew up in Manalapan, New Jersey, a handsome man came to the window and opened it. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told him. “I know this looks strange, but you see, I used to live here.” It turns out that at the moment I was creeping around his office, he was working on a film, thinking to himself, “I need a writer.” Sometimes the universe cracks itself up.
Residents present and past
Within moments, Adam, the man who lives with his wife in the house where I lived from ages eight to 19, was shaking my hand, and allowing my daughter, mom and me inside. The synchronicities abounded. “This is the house where I became a writer. It’s an artist house,” I told him. He understood — he’s a photographer and filmmaker, and his wife, a painter. We talked about the bad mojo of my parents’ divorce in this house, and the subsequent divorce of the people who moved in after my family, as well as the healing energy of this place.
Adam and my mom discuss the backyard, past and present
Inside and out, the house has flourished. Gone are the walls dividing the kitchen and ornamental dining room, and family room and living room. Spaciousness, light, color and life whirl through house instead. When we got to my bedroom, I shared another wall-removal story: what it was as a 16-year-old to wake up one morning after a 12-hour shift the day before at the Englishtown Auction (largest flea market on the planet as far as we were concerned), open my door, and see all sky. That was beginning of my father’s removal of most of the upstairs to create another common room and a few more bedrooms.
Outside, the gardens were lush, artistic and inviting, and I was especially thrilled
The view from my old bedroom window
to see that Adam raises tomatoes and bounties of flowers. The hill where I sat nestled among bushes and trees for hours, journal in hand, was still mildly wild and steep. The railroad ties that framed a 25′ x 15′ sandbox — my dad never did anything small — in lieu of a fabulous deck and oasis of peace.
So I got to go home again to the place I held onto for dear life as a teenager when the rest of my world and family spun out of control. I lived here with my family of origin, alone with my dad, and with a big stepfamily and Trinidadian housekeeper. During all those years, I tucked myself between the pussy willows on the left-side of the house, just outside Adam’s office window, and wrote plays and poems. Now I return to discover the place continues to shelter artists, having come home to its best self.