Although I consider myself pretty much New Jersey/New Yorker, my real roots lay in an idyllic town in Puerto Rico called Aibonito. Located in the center of the island and surrounded by mountains, winding roads, and blankets of fog and mist, the sleepy little town is my birthplace. My parents moved from Aibonito to New Jersey in the late 70’s, where I grew up. We returned in 1989, and spent my junior high school years all the way through college on the island.
The town holds so many memories for me, as well as a bunch of firsts. First girlfriend, first best friend, first beer, first time I drove a car, first tattoo, I can go on and on. After graduating from college and teaching in the town for a few years, I decided to go back to NJ and work in NYC. My friends threw me a punk show farewell party, and the next day I packed my bags and hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand.
I felt like Bilbo Baggins leaving The Shire. Leaving behind a tranquil, carefree existence. If I told I wasn’t scared I’d be lying to you. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would make it through a year away from the sheltered, protective embrace of my small town. Sure, I knew the NY/NJ area from my childhood, but it was different. Aibonito saw me return as a child and saw me leave a man. A sack full of dreams over my shoulder, a weeping mother and sister left behind at home. I wasn’t scared, I was terrified. Small town mountain boy making a living in NYC. If I didn’t make it here, this city wouldn’t simply let me go, it would destroy me.
Six years later and I have changed quite alot. I fought many battles and proudly wear the trophies on my arms. The beast of a city has not been tamed, but it respects me and even shows some affection towards me. It knows I’m a survivor and we regard each other with mutual respect. I’m not claiming victory yet, and probably never will, but I will say that it never succeeded in destroying me, and I can live with that.
I try to go back to my hometown every year to see my friends and family. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss them. Everytime I go back, they ask me a million questions about life in the big city. I enjoy sitting down and telling them my latest adventures and listening to the latest small town gossip. But at the same time there is a kind of disconnect within me. As much as I miss my mountain town, I can never go back to it. I feel like I changed to much and not only would I have trouble coping, but people would have a hard time understanding me. Kind of like a viking warrior who left his sleepy village and returned after many battles only to feel out of place, uncomfortable with the peace and quiet, not knowing what to do or how to relate. The people in my town now look at me in a strange way, staring at my tattoos and clothes. I feel like I lost something, yet I don’t know what.
Back when I taught in Aibonito, I passed by these mountains every day on my way to school. I never really thought of taking a photo of them, since I had gotten so used to the sight. On the last day of my last visit to Aibonito, I decided I wanted to take a photo of the mist over the mountains. I packed my bags and told my mom I would be right back. Driving out a bit, I stopped and snapped a few photos. Then I came back, put my bag in the car, and said goodbye to my mom. I haven’t been back since.