It was just a typical day for my sisters and me at our Woodbury Arms apartment. We started our day with a visit to one of our most beloved convenience stores located right across the street from our apartment complex—Heritage’s. As always, we got our chips, our drinks, and asked for a delicious Heritage’s deli sandwich. We waited patiently, our tongues salivating at the thought of finally eating these sandwiches again. They slightly toasted our wheat bread and added thinly sliced turkey breast deli meat, lettuce, diced tomatoes, pickles, crunchy slices of bacon, salt, pepper, oregano, and oil. We got back to the apartment and stuffed our faces like there was no tomorrow, and when we were done, we laid out on the floor with our stomachs nearly bulging out of our pants from being so full. Our television was so loud the entire apartment complex could know what we were watching. And the best part about the day was that Tisha and I were not enraged by each other’s presence like we usually were, and Michelle did not have to mediate between the two of us about anything. We could all finally stand being in the same room together, although there wasn’t much of a room to be in. Everything seemed to be perfect that day for us until we got slapped in the face like a gusty wind on a rainy day with “Great News” from our parents. “Great News” to them meant something was about to change for us, and it would either be something we did not like in the beginning or something we would not like at all. However, it sounded like something we could negotiate on when we were told that after Michelle graduated from high school, we would be moving into a much bigger, much “homier” apartment. And since we had been crammed in this two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment for ten years of our lives, all we could feel at the time was pure and utter excitement. On the outside, it could have looked like we were sad to move out of the apartment, but the mischievous looks on our faces gave away how we really felt. “Moving away from this pathetic excuse for an apartment? Nobody should even call this thing an apartment! Get us out of here!” But we were confused though. We know when our parents are up to something or when they are withholding information, so what were they hiding? Well, it took a turn for our worst when they told us what was really going on.
It was eventually brought to our attention that Pops had about three job offerings at the time: one for a job in Memphis, Tennessee, one in Newark, New Jersey, and one somewhere in Delaware. There was something about the job offering in Delaware that made it cancel itself out. So he had to choose between Memphis and Newark which both brought problems. If he chose the job in Memphis, he would obviously have to take the whole family down with him and start over. If he took the job in Newark, he had two options. He would have to drive 45 minutes both ways from home to work every day for five days, which would require a boatload of money for gas. His other option would be to stay in Newark but get a hotel room for five days so he would not have to spend much money on gas. However, it would have been triple the amount of money to spend on a dusty hotel room every week. Either way, too much money would have been wasted on gas or a hotel and it would not have been worth it to stay in New Jersey under those circumstances. That was when we realized what their “Great News” really meant. He chose the job in Memphis, and that bigger and “homier” apartment they were referring to was in Tennessee, not in New Jersey. This stunning revelation left us shocked and speechless, literally. We were no longer excited, and we certainly were no longer confused. Everything was finally made clear to us: our world as we knew it was over.
Pops moved down to Tennessee before we did since his demanding job at FedEx required him to. We stayed back in our cramped little apartment while he lived in a studio-like apartment. There was only a partial wall between the “bedroom” and the living room with only one bathroom and a kitchen half the size of his "bedroom". The good thing was he did not have to share this apartment with anyone else, so the limited amount of space for him was not that bad. But I did not care about the apartment he was staying in, and I certainly could care less about our apartment. I did not even claim it as my home anymore. What I did care about was if the actual layout of our new apartment measured up to the mental image I painted in my head. Our parents told us it had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a much bigger kitchen, a bigger living room, a bigger everything! This meant that Tisha would get her own room and Michelle and I would be share the third bedroom, which was a much more comfortable layout than what we were used to. The new apartment complex even had a tennis court and a swimming pool. We never had an interest in tennis and we never learned how to swim either, but Woodbury Arms never had a pool or a tennis court, just space in the back for little children to run around in and get dirty in. So I still hated the idea of leaving Jersey, which I will always consider to be home, but I still had something to look forward to in Tennessee: a bigger apartment.
We had less than a year, nine months to be exact, to get this apartment back to the way it was when we rented it out in 1999. To be honest, we waited until the last possible minute to start packing, which was a few months before Michelle’s graduation. We still needed to live comfortably, so we packed the items that we never really used. We started with unloading everything out of our brown, perfectly polished Buffet against the wall that led to our patio. We wrapped the dusty plates, glasses, and bowls that we never used out of the Buffet using old and raggedy newspapers. As far as our clothes, if they were torn, too small, or if the color of the clothing looked a little faded, we threw it out. Anything else that we still wanted but did not plan to wear until after we moved was carefully folded and placed into one of the boxes we got from Pathmark, our local grocery store, or from wherever else my dad could get them. The more we stopped using all these items around the house, the quicker the boxes started piling up in the corner where the Buffet used to be. It became even more cluttered when we started packing up all our towels, our sheets, our curtains, the rest of our silverware, and everything else that was left in the apartment. Soon, the apartment looked more like a congested mess rather than a place to live. It was almost as if we were homeless in our own home, yet this was no longer our home. This was no longer a place where we could feel secure. This was now just a 950-square foot block that used to neatly hold all our belongings but now serves as a big storage room. It was starting to become real to us, the thought of starting over 1,000 miles away from the only home we ever knew. The excitement we felt when we first found out we were moving officially left us, and our confusion prevailed over our bodies once again. We just could not believe it was really happening.
Michelle’s graduation came and gone and “Doomsday” creeped up on us like a thief in the night. Everybody was doing their last-minute cleaning of the apartment. We threw out an old Kellogg’s chocolate chip waffle box and other frozen foods we could not bring with us. We vacuumed every square inch and threw away any and all little pieces of trash or whatever else we could find around the apartment. We wiped off our two little countertops and our worn-down, slightly rusted gas stove top. And once all boxes and pieces of furniture were in the big, yellow Penske truck my dad rented, we re-checked every single square inch of the apartment to make sure there was no trace of us ever living there. I must say, we did pretty well. It was still early in the morning when we finished. The sun was still shining, the air reeked of sweat and moisture, and we were all just ready to get this “road trip” over with and move in to our new apartment. Luckily, a few family members came to see us off and brought peace to our annoyed moods. My Aunt Yolanda, my dad’s mom, one of my dad’s coworkers, and our new Godsisters and their mother, graced us with their presence one last time before it was time to go. One of our Godsisters, LeeLee, was actually coming with us to stay in our new apartment for six weeks. We felt it would be slightly crowded with her sleeping in one of our rooms, like another day in our Woodbury Arms apartment all over again. However, the fact that someone in our family from Jersey was coming to spend time with us in our new “home” put us at ease just enough to enjoy our trip a little more. We all talked, we laughed, we shared camera time on my dad’s old, silver Sony Handycam Video Camcorder, and made some more memories to take on the road with us. The next thing we knew, it was time to say good-bye. Good-bye to Woodbury Arms Apartments. Good-bye to the Villa Nova down the street who served the best Large Cheese Pizza, Chicken Philly Cheesesteak, Large Fries, and Large Pepsi in Deptford. Good-bye to Deptford Day, the one day where we could all come together as a city and share food, fun, and laughter. Good-bye Atlantic City and Seaside Heights; although I never got to visit these two boardwalks as often as I wanted to, it will now take longer for me to come back to them again. And last but not least, good-bye New Jersey, the one place I know I can always call home.
The date was June 26, 2009. I remember it so well because it was the day after Michael Jackson died. Every news channel was broadcasting his death. Every television channel had something to say about him. And every radio station we clicked to was playing his music, from "Human Nature" to "Butterflies" to "Lady in My Life". Nevertheless, we had to focus on moving. It was a two-day process, a total of 26 hours on the road, driving from New Jersey to Tennessee. It would have only been about 25 hours if the time did not change on us, but either way we spent way too long on the road. We stopped nearly twenty times for gas, food, bathroom breaks, and rest stops. I remember riding with my dad in the Penske truck for the majority of the trip. I also remember staying wide awake in that truck while everyone slept during our rest stops at night. Everybody else may have been comfortable falling asleep in the middle of nowhere at 1:00 in the morning, but I stayed on my guard the entire time and I did not budge in that truck. I kept my eyes wide open like a deer in headlights, and when my parents finally woke up and decided to continue driving, I would play it off like I had been asleep the whole time. In addition to letting me ride in the truck, my dad tried to make the trip a little more memorable for us by stopping at different monuments and museums on the way. We even stopped at the World War II Veterans Memorial Bridge in Virginia. As a matter of fact, we stopped a few times in Virginia, but it was not for sightseeing or anything of that nature. Three different State Troopers pulled us over because my mom's gold 2000 Buick Century did not have its taillights on or something like that. Once the Troopers left, Pops fixed the problem, made his little video entry, and drove off. Eventually, we finally made it to Tennessee. The scorching hot sun made us sweat more than we would have liked, and it got so hot that everyone's skin started to become slightly sticky. The thought of my skin being sticky was one reason why I wanted to stay in the truck until we made it to our new apartment. But Pops told me he had to pick up my Uncle Runthy from his house to help unload the truck, so I was forced to ride with the "sticky ones" as I liked to call them. We stopped one last time at this random gas station, the kind where you can only walk up to a little window rather than walking physically into a store. Once I got settled into the car with my mom, my two sisters, and my Godsister, Leelee, we traveled on to my uncle's house. Soon, we ended in a seemingly abandoned neighborhood. There was only about one or two houses on every block. The rest of it was unused land with grass that desperately needed to be cut. We waited for our uncle to come out of his house while the sun continued to beam through the windows of our car. But the next thing we knew, Pops was summoning us to get out the car. We lazily pushed each other out one by one due to our lack of energy, lack of food, and lack of freshness. Pops pulls out his old Sony Video Camcorder, telling us all to wave to the camera and say "Hello". LeeLee was the only one who was happy to wave to the camera, but we thought nothing of it. Finally, my sisters and I got our "Hello's" out of the way as our father, behind the camera, utters out the words, "Okay. Girls, welcome home."
LeeLee's sinister laughter and the creepy clown-like smile on our parents’ faces left us confused. “This is our house?” Tisha asked. And only seconds later, it finally came to us. “This is our house!” Michelle exclaimed as we all ran to the front door of our new home. The sound of the wind whipping past us as we ran made it feel like we were running for the Olympics, though we were not running nearly as fast. We rushed to the door of our new home and gazed upon its outer beauty. We yelled at our father to hurry up and open the door, and the second he did, we brushed him out of our path and ran through the house. We walked through the first floor, which was bigger than our entire apartment back at Woodbury Arms. We scoped out the kitchen with an electric stove and double, silver ovens. We ran up the back steps and onto the catwalk, passing the front set of steps, and into what would be Tisha's room. This place had everything! It was a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home with two sets of stairs, a living room and a family room, and it even had a bonus room. And the best part? We all finally had our own rooms again! This was like a dream come true, and it was a way better gift to us than whatever apartment we would have lived in. That "new apartment" never crossed our mind after seeing this mansion! (That was what it was for us, considering we now live in something nearly four times the size of our old apartment.) What did cross our minds, though, was how long everyone knew the secret. Tim and Thedrick, two young men from our church who also helped unload the truck, were in on the secret. My Uncle Runthy was in on it. My parents were obviously in on it. Even LeeLee kept it from us! We just could not believe it. The disappointed looked on my sisters' faces, and mine, showed how we felt that nobody spilled the secret to us. Luckily, that feeling did not last long. We were so excited to have a house! And yet, all the excitement made me realize how much I would miss Jersey. However, it still felt nice to have some memories to hang onto. I still miss the Chicken Philly Cheesesteaks from Villa Nova. I still miss hearing the police sirens on Deptford Day at 8:00 in the morning. I still miss the smell of barbecue and funnel cakes on the Atlantic City boardwalk. I even miss the nasty taste of sea water in my mouth whenever I fell into the water. I'll always miss those kinds of things and much more. However, I must say that living in this two-story house makes it just a little bit easier to stay here in Tennessee. The day we moved was one of the longest days of my life, but moving into this beautiful house made our move so much better and helped us out in a lot of ways. Tisha and I finally grew a bond together. I got closer to God while living in this house. I even got engaged before the age of 21, which I doubt would have happened if we were still in Jersey. So yes things changed for us drastically, but it turns out that things changed for our benefits. Now mark that as the start of a new beginning!