Nothing good has ever happened to my family in New Jersey.

The worst was, of course, my grandmother’s sudden death, followed by our drive home in a record-breaking July heat wave in a car with no air conditioning, but we have also been lost on the back roads after dark as the whole state slowly flooded. Not to mention the mind-numbing traffic jams. Basically, although there are nice people all over the state, every time we have attempted to travel through has been an unrelenting disaster. So I wasn’t really surprised when our car broke down this past weekend on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge.

Fortunately, some nice transit cops called us a tow truck, only it was more like a push truck because what it did was drive up behind us, grill to bumper, and push the car to a gas station a half-mile away. You ever look out your rear window and see giant truck headlights literally touching the glass? It was a Stephen King-y moment for sure. We got to the gas station, filled up, figured we were in the clear – and then the car suffered what the mechanic later diagnosed as “catastrophic engine failure” five miles later on the side of the highway in Secaucus.

Thank God for our friend Jeff Cohen in New Jersey because he recommended us a good garage to leave our fallen comrade (the Mitsubishi Galant) at and his wife came up with the brilliant idea to rent a car from the 24-hour rental service at the Newark Airport. My family had sworn never to set foot there (on account of it being the site of my grandmother’s death), but we had no choice this time.

You might be wondering why we didn’t just turn around and go home, why we would shell out 500 bucks for a rental and drive through the night, through New Jersey and Delaware and half of Virginia to Norfolk.

It’s because we had a very important boat to meet. Yes. That’s right. My baby brother is home.


I guess I shouldn’t say he’s my “baby” brother. He’s a fully grown adult man who just spent seven months at sea. The United States Navy gives him big responsibilities, and he earned achievement medals for them. In fact, his division won his ship’s Rocky Balboa Award, which, in addition to being hilarious, also meant that he was one of the first to come off the gangplank. And when his feet hit the pier I swear I let out the biggest sigh of relief in my life. Because even though serving as a electrical systems guy in the Navy is one of the safer assignments in military service, it’s still the military. He had been at sea, which is full of sharks and giant squid, for 225 days. He had been stationed in the waters of the Middle East, which is not exactly known for being chill, for most of that.

If you’ve never been to a Navy homecoming, I can promise it’s every bit as exciting and heartwarming as the YouTube video compilations make it seem. There were signs and children in adorable matching outfits and brand-new babies. Couples running into each other’s arms. Copious weeping. (Mom said she wasn’t going to cry and then she totally did.) There was a brass band playing and all of us were running on less than five hours of sleep, so we really appreciated all the shore-duty sailors handing out cold cans of soda.

My brother looked the same as when he left, and also completely different. Part of that was the 15 pounds of solid muscle he had put on (nothing to do on the boat but work out). Part of it was the air of a worldly and traveled man – now he’s been to Cyprus (“awesome”), Albania (“really awesome”) and Bahrain (“hot”). Part of it was the extra ribbons he had pinned to his chest. (Sadly, the Rocky Balboa Award did not come with a ribbon, but it did come with a trident. You know, because the ocean.) All of it adds up to a man who came back to his family a little smarter and a little wiser than when he left.

We were all so happy, our words all tumbling out and running over each other, that we got him all the way to the backseat of the car before he realized that he was sitting in a 2019 Ford Fiesta and not a 2006 Mitsubishi Galant.

Yes, astute reader, the Mitsubishi Galant that has been lost to the ravages of New Jersey was my brother’s car.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: mainemillennial

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