If you take the train home to Rhode Island from New York the day before Thanksgiving, you might feel that energy of migration. The motion of thousands of other people all headed in various directions — back to families and Friends-givings, weekend bags on the seat next to them, potentially dreading the political conversation that might spring up over turkey and the gelatinous cranberry sauce jiggling on the table.
“I was on the train and this guy sat next to me. We started talking. He said, ‘I’m going back home to Providence.’ I said, ‘Of course you are.’ Because all I do is run into people from Providence. Every bar I’ve ever been in since I’ve lived in New York City, if you talk to enough people, you’re going to meet someone from Rhode Island. It always happens.”
She’d been living in the city for three years, and she’d made it a point to go home for every major holiday. Her family was close, and they wouldn’t take “No” for an answer, but Thanksgiving was her favorite time to return.
“There just isn’t the pressure of Christmas. Christmas is so much pressure. Every other time of year, it feels hard to get away from work and anything else I have going on. Thanksgiving is easier for me. I look forward to it. I put up the Out of Office and I grab a sandwich on the way to the station, and I really … I really enjoy it. The trip home. It’s nice.”
The guy who sat next to her was making the trip home for the first time. He’d moved to the city the year before to work at a startup tech firm, and he was having trouble adjusting.
“We talked about places we like going in the city, and I gave him some tips, some places I like, and we talked about growing up in Providence, and you know, of course, he lives two blocks over from me. I’m on ______ Street and he’s two streets over. We were laughing, because we’re pretty much neighbors.”
They were both planning on renting a car when they got to New Haven, but that didn’t seem to make much sense once they knew how close their destinations were. Then again, it’s not wise to hop in a car with a stranger you met on a train just because they claim they live near you, so she did what any reasonable Rhode Islander would do. She called her mother and asked if there was any connection there.
“Sure enough, his mom and my mom worked together years ago at this law firm. Not only are we neighbors, but our parents know each other, and he randomly sat down next to me on the train. I’m almost thinking that someone is pulling a prank on me, but like I said, this happens all the time in New York. And I say to my mother, ‘Good thing you know him, because it’ll save me money on a rental if I can split it.’ My mom goes, ‘Just don’t ask him about his father, because he had cancer.’ My mom loves to tell you what not to ask people about. Just to mess with her I turn to him and say ‘Your father had cancer?’ And it turns out, he didn’t have cancer. My mother was thinking of someone else. To this day, I’ll tell this story and she’ll go, ‘Are you sure his father didn’t have cancer?’ It’s been driving her nuts for years.”
They drive back to Rhode Island together and find that they’re really hitting it off. Neither can believe the odds of a love story beginning in such a cinematic way, but neither is all that mad about it either. By the time they’re back in Providence, they’ve already made plans to meet up later that night once they’ve spent some time with family.
“We went to this bar, and not only do we keep bumping into people who know me, we’re bumping into people who know both of us. Everybody’s going, ‘You two don’t know each other?’ And I’m going, ‘Well, we do now.’ It happened all night.”
The next morning, he stopped by her house as she was helping her mother get Thanksgiving dinner ready to introduce himself to her family.
“My mother was more smitten than I was. Right then, she was ready to marry me off. I told her to slow down, because we had just met, but we did have a good time the night before, and we were going to drive back together that Saturday.”
But when Friday night arrived and they made plans to get drinks, he called to tell her he had bad news.
“He decided to stay in Rhode Island. He wasn’t going back to New York.”
She was heartbroken. What had looked like some kind of fairy tale was now having an abrupt, real life ending. That Saturday, she made the drive back to New Haven alone, and sat by herself on the train once more, this time without a serendipitous meeting of any kind.
“It just felt wrong. Something about it. I was thinking, Am I supposed to move back or is he supposed to stay in New York? You just knew something should happen, but you didn’t know what it was.”
The answer came a month later.
“I came home for Christmas and he called to ask me if I would get dinner with him. I said, ‘Yes’ but I almost didn’t, because I had been thinking about him all month, and I was trying to forget him. It felt unfair to meet somebody like that and not have it work out.”
They had a nice dinner downtown, and as he was walking her back to her car, they were both trying to find the right thing to say. Instead, the two shared a long hug, and went their separate ways for the second time.
“I cried the whole way home. It was so stupid, because I barely knew this guy, and I was not giving up my life in New York for a guy. That wasn’t happening. But it didn’t make it hurt any less.”
When she got back to New York, it was New Year’s Day, and she was hoping a new year would give her a new perspective.
“Instead I walked into my apartment, and a pipe’s burst. There’s water everywhere. Most of my stuff is ruined. It looked like a tank at an aquarium.”
While she had no intention of moving home for love, she also trusted the Universe to tell her when it was time to make a change.
“I’m walking around the city while the super handles what’s going on in my apartment, and I’m noticing all these things I never noticed before — New York is a beautiful place, but it’s for a certain kind of person, and you might be that person for a long time, and then one day, you’re not that person anymore. I don’t know why, but that day, I wasn’t that person anymore. I don’t know where she went, but she was gone, and that meant I was gone, too.”
She was back in Providence a week later, and a year after that, she had a new house and a new husband. He had been hoping she’d find her way back, and when she returned home in the middle of January, he was waiting for her at the train station.
“My mother said, ‘If you don’t marry him, you’re crazy. He drove to pick you up at five o’clock. Five o’clock!’ She’s got a point.”
The weekend before Thanksgiving, she usually heads back to the city to see friends and check out old stomping grounds. Although that’s going to be a little harder this year — for a few reasons.
“The baby does not do well in the car. Not yet. We’re working on it, though.”
If you feel something missing this year, it might be that sweep of movement that happens every November as people return home to be with their loved ones. While it’s going to be difficult to forego it this time around, it turns out that not every expression is as accurate as it seems.
“I love when you’re driving up the highway and you see the city. It’s silly things like the storage facility and the Big Blue Bug and the factory next to the bridge lit up — all of that. When it’s where you’re from, you love seeing it, no matter what.”
It turns out if you wait for the right time, you can go home again.