Lately, I find myself frequently inserting the words “back home” in my conversations with people.  Funny thing is, depending on whom I’m speaking to, “back home” means different things.  If I’m telling my kids “well, we left that toy back home” or “you should’ve left that crappy attitude back home” or so forth, well it obviously refers to our house in Huntersville.  If I’m on the phone with my friends, I’ll say things like “how are things back home?” or “I miss everyone back home”.  Again, I am referring to Carolina.

On the flip side, the phrase has a totally different usage when I say it to people here in LBI.  I tend to put it to use when meeting the locals.  I have gone to the kids’ school several times and am always meeting someone who asks when we moved here and where from.  I’m not sure if it’s some sort of defense mechanism coming into play or what, but I find myself always saying “We moved from Charlotte BUT we are originally from here…we really are just back home now.”  It’s almost reflexive and I don’t even realize I’m saying it until it’s already out of my mouth.  (A bad habit that’s gotten me in trouble many a time.  Who needs alcohol when you are already missing the self-censoring gene?)  I guess I just don’t want to be seen as some “outsider”, although, ultimately, that’s exactly what I am.

The whole thing is just so strange.  I’ve moved so many times in my life, just the concept of “home” is nebulous at best.  When I first moved to Carolina over 8 years ago, I really felt like an outsider.  A Yankee outsider at that–the worst kind!  Suffice it to say, I was a bit prejudiced against Southerners and in spite of having lived in the South before (Louisiana–a world unto itself however) I firmly identified myself as a Northerner.  When asked, I would proudly state “I am from NEW JERSEY”.  I would soon discover that this accomplished nothing so much as creating an instant bond with half the people I met.  “‘Aaayyy, you from Jersey??  What exit?  I’m from [insert any NJ town here]!”  Charlotte may have started out southern, but the immigrants are mostly Jersey folk, New Yorkers or Ohioans (is that a word?)  My people.  It was great.  We could collectively say “Back home…” and all mean the same place.  At any rate, I was a Yank.  Home was up North.  Me, a southerner?!  Hell, no!

Fast forward 8 years.  Eight lovely, settled, home-y years.  I’ve already written about how Carolina transformed me.  After living there with, and raising my family there for so long, I identify myself as a North Carolinian.  I lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere.  How could I deny the roots I planted there?  So while I am still loathe to say that I am a Southerner, you can call me one and I won’t be offended.  Yet, at the same time,  I still somehow consider myself a Yank.  I guess because my parents and in-laws have always been here, and we’ve always “gone home” for holidays and visits and such, I will always feel “at home” here.  I grew up as a Yank, so a Yank I’ll always be.  Sheesh, I’m a one-woman civil war. 

So, here I am, back in Jersey almost 9 years later.  As I keep telling people, we have returned “back home”.  The problem is, however, I find myself inexplicably defending my non-foreigner status with everyone I meet in LBI.  Here, I am once again the stranger in a strange land, in spite of the fact that I’ve been coming to this island for 20 years now.  I couldn’t be more comfortable or familiar with my surroundings here, but my status has changed.  To locals, I’m some newcomer.  I’m a resident but I’m still seen as the outsider.  So, when asked, I feel like I must claim myself as a Jersey girl who has simply come “back home”.  Otherwise, I’m just a pitiful newbie, and on top of that (horrors!) a Southerner.

These feelings of being trapped between two worlds are surely being enhanced by my current living conditions.  I am somehow supposed to go about my usual business of parenting, bill-paying, house-cleaning, job-seeking and thumb-twiddling,  AT THE BEACH!  What used to be nothing more than a glorious place to spend a week or two getting nothing accomplished but sunburn and relaxation, is now HOME.  What?  You want me to get off the lounge chair and buy groceries?  Then I’m supposed to make meals from those groceries?  On a regular and ongoing basis?  And pay the electric bill?  Seriously?!   It’s getting a bit easier as the weather turns less summer and more sweatshirt, but it’s still tough to shake that “you don’t really live here” feeling. 

So I suppose that’s why I am treating every local I meet like they are members of some secret judiciary committee that decides if I’m worthy of becoming one of them.   When they ask me where I’m from, I quickly qualify my answer with “but I’m originally from HERE”, so that I might pass muster.  If I admit that I have been a Jersey girl all along, I’ll be instantly admitted to the LBI clan of townies, right?  Poor North Carolina.  It’s now relegated to 2nd class citizenship.  It was just some place I was passing through.  For 8 years.

I’m telling you though, this island is a little weird.  I love this place with a passion and have for the past 20 years.  But again, as a visitor, a vacationer.  The locals–the year-round people as I call them–are known for their disdain of the Shoobies and Bennys.  Locals are quite provincial and look upon non-islanders with a mix of suspicion and what I think can only be called pity.  This is THEIR island.  You may bring the dollars, but that’s the only worthy contribution you make here.  I swear I see looks of shock and contempt on their faces when I tell them I’m from North Carolina.  These people are lovely people, don’t misunderstand me.  Everyone has been very kind and welcoming.  However, I truly believe that they are treating me the same way we, as American hosts, would treat actual foreign tourists–with curiousity and a willingness to be kind and helpful because they’d be lost without us.  A sort of sincere arrogance if you will.  Not that I mind.  They are sincere indeed, and that’s the bottom line.  Well, and most of them are drunk.  (JUST KIDDING!)  It’s an island for goodness sake–laid-back personalities are mandated here.

Basically I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel “at home” here in my new old home.  I try to put myself out there and make an effort to meet new people, but the question always comes up. Proving how insular this community is, everyone at the girls’ school knew about us before even meeting us.  We were already pegged as “the new family” .  These kids and their parents have known each other forever, so when we show up, we’re instantly identifiable.  It’s been nice in the sense that many people have just come up and welcomed us off the bat.  But even more people have just eyeballed us suspiciously, done the mental calculations and well, I guess the jury is still out on whether we’ll be allowed to stay.  The folks who’ve bothered to greet us are very nice for the most part.  Yet I still have my armor on and ready.  When the school janitor said, in jest, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” I laughed, but also answered with “But I’m NOT a Southerner!”  (LIE).  Thus feeding the stereotype I usually try to ignore.  Someone else from school commented that we didn’t have a “southern accent”.  Again, my response was an effort to distance myself from my Carolina roots.  I told them how I made every effort to avoid picking up an accent (true) but that I wasn’t a southerner anyway (false).

I’m a Southerner from up north.  I’m a Yankee from down south.  I’m just confused.  Where then, is “back home”?  And if I am back home, then why am I so homesick?

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