If you’re a Bachelor Nation member like me, you know exactly what “hometowns” means. Picture it, you’re the Bachelor or Bachelorette. You’ve spent a year traveling a season with your potential love of your life and didn’t make it to the end. Then you get picked for your own fairytale love story, and go on an adventure of your own. There are two times in this year you’ll experience “reality” and that’s during the week of Hometowns! For those of you too cool and intellectually brilliant to be bothered with garbage TV, I’ll explain. Hometowns is the week the Bachelor or Bachelorette gets to go to meet the families of the four last remaining love interests. This is usually where they say “I love you” for the first time and make the decision if they can see this person as their love for life or love for the remainder of the TV show. For the contestants vying for the Bachelor or Bachelorette’s final rose, getting to hometowns is a major milestone. As the season goes on through crazy giant group dates, stupid stunts and making out with fireworks blasting behind the couple, the theme of conversation around hometowns blossoms. “I can’t wait to take you home to meet my family,” is a repeated sentiment. This is what they are waiting for, a chance to be ‘real’ and be with their friends and family to show what they are truly like.

Well, this week, it’s Hometowns for this vanlife girl. I’m sitting at the Phoenicia Diner, sipping my third refill of coffee in the only booth in here with the secret outlet to recharge my devices. I got a sweet shot of the van in front of this place.

So many familiar faces, and friends who’ve known me longer than most. It’s not really my hometown, but my life was here for much of my world post divorce. When I split with my now very ex husband, we moved here to a little yellow house on Wittenberg Road. The house stunk of black mold, needed all sorts of work, didn’t have functioning appliances in the kitchen and the heat had to come from a wood stove because the oil was a thousand dollars a month to heat the place. The little yellow house had a charming wrap around porch, a sweet yard for running around naked in the rain and became our landing pad after a long and touch life with the wrong man. It’s the house where my son learned to breakdance by watching a plethora of vintage breakin’ movies on snowy days, where I sobered up and found the dharma and where I went from the very bottom and worked my way up to a new found me.

We lived in this town for twelve years, most of my son’s life. It’s where he made life long friends, plotted great creative ideas, built finger board ramps and imagined a life that included mountains, good friends and adventures in a van.

Being a single parent is probably challenging anywhere in this world, but out here it was especially hard because we were so isolated. I kept picking more remote housing and finding that the cons of living further away from people were taking their toll on my son. He was growing up, and wanted to get around and have freedom. He wanted to see friends, hang at the skate park and get into trouble. Not easy when you live in a house two miles from town with no legitimate public transportation.

Despite our isolation and challenges, we had so many wonderful reasons to live here. My son ran around in the woods every day, playing in the stream, learning outdoor fun and snowboarding all season long. He played in all four seasons, and we made wonderful friends who cared deeply about us, and us them. We found love in these curvy hills of the Catskills and a life that sustained us.

The economy here was always challenging, seasonal and never consistent. I was always hustling to make ends meet, starting unique businesses, waiting tables, selling handmade stuff, catering gigs, planning weddings and doing just about anything I could to keep our finances afloat. The payoff was worth it though, because my son had a very magical childhood growing up here in the beautiful Catskill mountains.

When we moved in 2017, I was ready to go. I was tired, exhausted from hustling and frustrated how hard it was to make it work. I got my master’s, and got a job in Colorado and we were off.

I haven’t been back since. Until now.

It feels nice yet bittersweet. It’s the past, not my present. My son isn’t here to enjoy rekindling memories at our favorite swimming holes, eateries, and places we lived our happiest life. He lives in a city now, and doesn’t get this life in the woods anymore. It makes me sad he’s not playing in the dirt.

When I pulled into Kingston a few days ago, it was like my version of hometowns. These are the people that probably know me best, the people that know I’m a good mom (or that I was one), the people with whom I could be real, and a community where I was my most authentic self. If only I was happier here. I don’t think I let myself be happy and relaxed, I was always struggling to support us. Life was hard, beautiful, magical and hard.

I’m hanging for a few days, maybe longer. Making plans to see some friends, catch up, and share my journey.

It’s not easy facing a life I abandoned, a life I miss, and a world that hanged behind me as I moved forward and evolved myself.

I’m calling this part of the trip my homecoming, my hometown. It is where I can be my most real, at least I think it is. Feels as though I could open up, and expose my inner juices, seek and find more healing, and finally get to talk about the challenges of last year with people who now only know and love me, but knew and loved us (my son and me) as chosen family does.