Back to Uncle Xhorxh’s
When she was 8, Stela Xhiku left Albania and moved into her uncle Xhorxh’s apartment in New Jersey. Two decades later, they’re living under the same roof again.
No trains leaving from Montclair, NJ on the weekends. There are local buses you can take to other buses, and finally to Port Authority in Manhattan. Else, you can sit nicely in your confinement, go to the Clairidge Cinema, take your teenage cousins to the tennis courts, or to a park of daffodils. Even going to the CVS to browse the seasonal section has become something of an event recently.
In spite of these thrills, my first month in Montclair has been spent looking for an apartment in Manhattan to replace the apartment I left in Brooklyn in September. Leaving was a good choice; as a post-grad adult in New York, I got stuck in the familiar cycle of signing a new lease every August. It’s a tormenting annual tradition, and by the end of each August barely so-so apartments appear like golden mirages in the sand. The desperation of the apartment hunt has been with me for years and, finally, in the midst of it all, I discovered a safety net: my uncle Xhorxh’s (“George’s”) house in suburban New Jersey.
Not that it’s my first spell at Uncle Xhorxh’s. When I left Albania at eight-years-old, my uncle Xhorxh took my mom, dad, sister, and me from Newark Airport straight to his New Jersey bachelor pad where we began the Xhiku American Adventure.
At the time, I had a boys’ haircut (a half inch of black hair). I also had a nascent, treatable case of Tuberculosis, a fear of squirrels, and horrible social skills that would have been devastating if not for my overstated confidence. I saw my first bathtub and collected my first lightning bug. At school, I pretended to know all about Halloween and hissed “bleshoo” at the slightest suggestion of a sneeze. I was going to learn to be polite and roller blade, and so help me, I was also going to smell good, like all Americans with their nice teeth.
I had cut off my Albanian ties quite nicely. I gave a stuffed tomato toy to my favorite teacher, handed off our Disney movies to my cousin Alda, and ceased all communication with my best friend, Ina, to make the move easier on us both. Our leaving was a big deal, a rare chance provided by my great-grandfather, who had lived and died in Boston after the first World War.