It took several years of marriage and home-ownership and motherhood before Burlington began to feel like home. For a long time, I longed for Amherst and the fantasy of my life there, alone and writing in my room on Lessey Street in the house where my parents still live. We moved there on December 6, 1984 – my mother’s 41st birthday (the age Greg is now!). I was just shy of twelve.

This is the house where I worshipped David Bowie, wrote him letters and cried that we couldn’t be together. This is the house where I could walk to town after school and spend hours at Lodestone trying on earrings. Here I discovered I was Jewish after about sixteen years of Christmas mornings. Here I had my first sleepover with Jessi, listened to Phoebe Snow and Van Morrison and smoked bowls and butts out my bedroom window. Here I wrote poems with titles like “Dragon Blue Moon,” all brooding and sad. Here I danced alone to Los Lobos and Guns ‘n’ Roses, translated poems from Spanish to English, English to Russian. Here I burrowed in boxes in my closet late into the night, like an animal in her den. Here I postered the walls with slogans I barely understood but that stirred something in me: Keep Your Laws Off My Body!

Here I pined for a soulmate who I knew existed but wouldn’t meet for some time to come. Here I binged and purged and cried and wrote letters and made little books for my family. Here I lurked around the Evergreens and the Dickinson Homestead, lovingly placed pebbles on Emily’s gravestone by the yew tree.

This was the house I left and returned to time and again – during college and various travels, short-lived relationships and changes of direction. This was the house I wrote a love song for ten summers ago during my morning pages phase; it came almost as a transcription of a dream, sitting on the side roof, drinking cold coffee, chainsmoking, wearing my mother’s soft, pink robe. (You can read it here.)

Nearly four years ago, I ran away from home to go home again. Practically within minutes of weaning Aviva, I was in the car on my way to Amherst. Alone. My parents were away, so I would have the house to myself. I think I did a whole lot of nothing – went for a run, walked to town, got a cheap bite to eat, wandered through Hastings, my favorite store of all time. Then I walked back up the hill and went to bed. And slept. Slept as if for the first time in eighteen months. Slept the sleep of the dead, the sleep of all the mothers and fathers who hold their children in the night through colic and croup, through hives and hunger and bad dreams and big noises. I slept in my parents’ room with the heavy shades down, under a down comforter, with earplugs.

I woke up feeling sedated around 9:30 the next morning and wondered if it had all been a dream: The husband, the child, the house, the job, my life. I went downtown for coffee, groggy and disoriented, and sat in the little garden behind the library with my journal, my cigarettes. I did not know how to be a whole person yet. I did not know how to be my alone, writing self and a mom, a wife, and a working professional. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to reconcile what I perceived to be these “parts.” I pulled out the card I had picked up the night before. It pictured a fifties housewife, her hair done up in a bun, smiling as she put water on a gleaming stove: “Be an artist and a Mom!” I wrote a furious message, sealed the envelope, placed a stamp in the corner and mailed it off to Burlington. I recently found it in a box. Here is what I wrote to myself:

Dear wild, poetic Jena –

Receive this card, my dear friend, in an urging against martyrdom. Cook and clean because it brings order and peace to your world, your tender, terrible little zoo, and because you care. And write, fuck, holler, swim naked alone, run away and come home and declare a moratorium on the trap you’ve imagined yourself into – because your imagination is intact, as wild and fertile as ever. Use your hands and your body and your deep, deep soul to live, to work it out, and to embrace all the rage and all the calm that is flowing in that long river of yours. You’re worth it. And I expect you to look at this card in your new office everyday and not to give up the fight to have it all.

xo Jena

In April, 2005, Greg, Aviva, Juke and I moved into a neighborhood I still pinch myself about, a little dead-end street near some woods and near town, complete with block parties and open backyards and roving packs of kids. That June, I quit smoking while Greg was on a NOLS course. The patch helped, but more than that, knowing that quitting smoking had to do with my spiritual integration is what made the difference (I had quit before, more than once). As nicotine replacement, I started my first blog, “Dadago” (“Dada go to the mountains” is what Aviva said every night for six weeks). Jobs have come and gone. Pearl came and stayed. I found a fantastic therapist who trained at Naropa. Working with her helped me find the quiet and wholeness that have been here all along.

And finally, here I am. Today. Whole, holy. Home.

6 thoughts on “Home

  1. Jen Ballantyne says:

    Jena, this is so beautiful. You had me going back to our family home, I went back to my bedroom where I too did all those wonderful things (except the Spanish into English, Russian lol), I love this piece – you made me feel. Also thank you for your comment on my blog and for sharing your story re the butterfly, so beautiful…Take good care Jen.


  2. bella says:

    This rocked my world.
    To integrate those parts and know yourself as whole, to feel yourself at home within yourself, is the art of living.
    I am grateful for your words today.


  3. Meg says:

    I am writing this from MY family home where Max and I have come for the weekend. I sighed a deep sigh as I remembered all the misadventures of my growing up. I recently (in the last year) went through a similar integration and loved the story of the note you sent to yourself. Blessings to you (and a big hug to Juke who I hope is growing stronger)


  4. Lisa says:

    Oh, I love this post. Your writing takes me right there along with you. The raw emotion hits me.

    I’ve never been to Burlington – or VT for that matter. But it was one of the favorite places of my good friend, Ann, who died last May. Therefore, it is, by association, a very special place in this world, because she cherished it so and I cherished her.

    Thank you for sharing your honesty and optimism with us.



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