No matter how much you didn’t like living at home or how badly you wanted to leave, there is something special about going back.

I recently spent a week in New Jersey after three years without a visit. It’s been even longer since the last time I lived there, but, when I stepped outside the airport, it still felt like home.

I knew I missed it, but I didn’t know how much.

I flew into Newark where a warm haze filled the air – the same haze that comes from the flames above a barbecue. As people smoked cigarettes against the airport wall, I waited for my aunt to pull up. Once inside her car, I peeled off my Bay Area layers and soaked in the sunshine coming through the windshield as we headed an hour south.

My aunt and I agreed that if all someone knew of New Jersey was the area outside of Newark Liberty International Airport, they would always think that we’re “the armpit of America.” That simply isn’t the case. (Did I mention that you become prouder of your state after you leave?)

I would spend nearly all of my nights staying at my aunt’s home – a townhouse that I’d never seen before but that was comfortable and chic, like my aunt and the previous places she’s lived. This was the first time I’d come back that my dad and the house we lived in when I was a teenager were no longer there. (He moved to Florida last year like many aging people from the northeast do.) But I didn’t mind staying with my aunt. In fact, I preferred it.

Besides being one of my absolute favorite people, my aunt is warm and welcoming.

She made me pork roll, egg and cheese sandwiches (It’s a Jersey thing, look it up) in the morning and stayed up late talking with me in the evening.

After each breakfast I drove to see my other favorite woman, my mom, trying to spend as much time with her as possible while pulling double-duty as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding. There were three wedding events that week – the rehearsal, the bachelorette party (woo, dancing!) and, of course, the wedding.

The wedding was beautiful and, as one of the only unmarried women present, I was glad that the bride’s toddler niece caught the bouquet. Bullet (and embarrassment) dodged!

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I have to add that, although I was happy to see my friends from high school as well as meet some new ones, the whole event, in addition to being back home, brought up a lot of emotions for me.

For one thing, I (solo) was sitting with three couples who were all at pivotal points in their relationships. One couple was just moving in together, the other is in the process of buying a house and another is about to have a baby. As much as I tried to smile and nod, I couldn’t help but think of myself.

Would I be happy with that life? Do I want to settle down? Where is my life going? Am I ever going to get remarried? Will I have a wedding or elope in Vegas? Will I ever be able to afford a home? Will I ever have babies? Would I ever move back to New Jersey?

Those questions were still in my head when I asked my new bridesmaid friend and her husband to come to “the Jug” with me for some garlic hot wings (the best wings in the world) after the wedding. I had wanted these wings so badly, but didn’t have the courage to go alone since it was one of the places my ex-husband and I used to go. (Yes, there were many layers to this trip.) It was just before 11 p.m. on a Sunday, so we were in the clear. The conversation was good and the three of us stayed until closing.

As we sat there sipping my favorite alcoholic drink – an Irish Trashcan – I realized it didn’t matter if I had seen my ex or not. I may not be exactly sure what my life will look like in the next few years, but right now I am doing great and feel like I’m on the right track.

I felt safe among friends – safe and at home.

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. Jersey Girl runs every other Sunday. Follow her on Twitter at @RiaSestito or email her at


Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC. S