I’ll Miss You, Rahway

We have moved. Earlier today, we closed on a townhouse, and this is where we live now. The process kicked off months ago—and I began drafting this post weeks ago—but it felt like a distant hypothetical all the way until tonight. This is our first night here, and I’ll be trying to sleep on the highest of multiple floors composing our space, without the usual soundtrack of train horns and yelling passersby.

I purchased our old condo over six and a half years ago. I chose Rahway primarily for its reasonable commute time to Jersey City and New York, proximity to my hometown, and ease of getting to the casino outside Philadelphia where I used to play an Omaha/stud game. Yes, it was important to me at the time to be able to get on Route 1 quickly and gamble. I also liked that Rahway had affordable homes within walking distance of the train station, unlike other towns farther west on the Northeast Corridor.

Growing up in Edison, you might think of Rahway as a shady place. Other people say, “Isn’t that where the prison is?” But I didn’t care about that stuff. I learned from my realtor that the downtown area had an up-and-coming arts scene, which was good enough for me. I did look up crime statistics: robbery and vehicular theft were high, but assault and murder were low. So I thought, well, at least no one is going to hurt or kill me.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Rahway. Shortly after moving in, I got a gym membership, my first ever, at the YMCA. The pool was mostly empty on evenings and weekends, allowing me to rediscover the joyful Zen of swimming. The weight room was well maintained. The staff was all so friendly. I felt accepted into the community right away.

The YMCA is located downtown, a five-minute walk from our apartment, sandwiched between a Mexican restaurant and a Peruvian one. Both have incredible food and super nice people. I discovered these early on, along with a dive-y rock-and-roll bar (that has since changed management and become classier and more expensive, but still holds a special place in my heart), a pizzeria right around the block (that takes online orders for pick-up, which was clutch during innumerable weekend hangovers), a cute Italian restaurant, and a fried-chicken place that also serves chicken and lamb rice platters and the best cheesesteaks.

I took up running while living in Rahway, and spent a year jogging all over the city. I found a mom-and-pop grocery store with great produce at low prices, where I shopped almost every week until having the baby earlier this year. I found parks: a really big, beautiful one with a lake and a community center, and lots of smaller ones tucked away in random neighborhoods. I found a large cemetery, which I later learned through a Halloween tour contains hundreds of soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I found a surprising number of churches for such a small city, and even made an Instagram hashtag for them, #churchesofrahway. Whenever I travel, I like to dedicate at least one day just to walking around semi-aimlessly; it’s the best way to stumble upon cool things on your own and get a feel for the local vibe. All my jogs combined have given me that same feeling, magnified hundredfold.

When I started dating my now husband, he was wary of coming over to see me in Rahway. He soon learned to like it, too, and together we made new discoveries. Next to the grocery store, there is a better pizza shop, still one of my favorite slices to date, than the one I’d been picking up from before. We found another Mexican restaurant with greasier, slightly more flavorful tacos (though, after a phase of frequenting this one, we eventually reverted to my original spot). We had a few dinners at the underground pizza parlor I’d been wanting to try. So many new businesses came to town, too. We did trivia nights at a pub that specializes in meatballs. We took visitors to a trendy pizzeria (yes, another one). We tried both new cafes that opened on the same block. The brewery became one of our favorite haunts. And most weekends, we would get breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts from the shop down the street, the best we’ve ever had. The downtown area is up-and-coming, as my realtor had promised.

Then we got mugged at gunpoint.

I recovered, but my husband didn’t. And who could blame him? He hadn’t spent years here, hadn’t fallen in love with the city the way I had. I chose Rahway; my husband didn’t. He was only here for me. After having the baby, other issues started piling up. He would never feel safe letting our child play outside. His commute was too long and full of traffic. The condo was too small if we were to have another kid. The school district isn’t good enough. So here we are.

Our new town is supposed to have an excellent food scene, too. We live a few minutes’ walk from an enormous park, bigger than the one in Rahway with the lake. My husband’s commute is significantly shorter, which also means our baby spends less time confined to a car seat going to and from daycare. The school district is better. In almost every possible way, this is an amazing move for our family. Yet I can’t help feeling sad and heavy-hearted. There is so much I will miss about Rahway. No matter how many beautiful new memories we create here, Rahway will always be important to me as the first place I chose to live as a Real Grown-up, where I was living when I became a gym rat, partied the hell out of my mid-twenties, started working in the big city, met my husband, and took my baby home from the hospital. Rahway, I love you.

Sentimentality

This may be surprising, but I am a very sentimental person. I love savoring moments present and past. When I close a chapter of my life—by graduating from a school, ending a relationship, leaving a job, and so on—I always want closure, one last good look around, a satisfying sense of neatly wrapped loose ends. I am a completionist who hates feeling as though I am missing out on part of any experience.

Parenthood exposes this aspect like an open wound that you can’t stop poking because you relish the sting. I don’t want to miss anything cute or funny or interesting from my baby. I want to catch every smile, coo, and even pout. I love holding his warm little body, looking into his wondering eyes, rubbing his soft cheeks, smelling his milky breath and his hair that smells like both mine and his father’s. Part of me hates that I’ll be going back to work full-time and will most likely miss his first steps and words.

And yet, the days are sometimes so, so hard because I worry so much about being the optimal nurturer. Is the baby crying too much? Is he sleeping enough? Am I talking to him enough to stimulate mental growth? Am I having him do enough tummy time and other activities for physical growth? Is he going to have developmental problems because I spend too much time on my phone and leave the TV on? Am I enforcing bad habits and associations? Some days, the hours pass at a miserable crawl. I count them down until the end of the day, the end of the week, and finally the arrival at some milestone when everything is supposed to get easier and better. At these times, I can’t wait to go back to work so I can stop obsessing over the baby and feel more like my old, “normal” self again.

They say, “The days are long, but the years are short.” My son is seven weeks old tomorrow. I can’t believe he’s already seven weeks old, but I also remember how far in the future this date used to feel whenever I was frustrated and exhausted. I remember how long my pregnancy felt, too. This baby takes so long to grow, and then he grows up too quickly.

The other day, I started a memories box for him. It contains ultrasound photos, hospital wristbands, medical charts, and cards from friends and family. Reviewing the ultrasound photos makes me so emotional. It is incredible to consider how this thirteen-pound living, breathing boy grew from a tiny bean. Eventually, my baby will be too big to nap on my torso. He may want to stop nursing before I do. Then, one day, I will have picked him up for the last time, not knowing it would be the last. There will never be any sort of closure.

Those kinds of thoughts wreck me, they really do.