On the night before I left home, I had a party at my parent’s house. I invited over all of my close friends, a few family friends, aunts, uncles and cousins. We grilled in the backyard and drank craft beer. At one point, as night began to fall in the sky, my friends and I retired to my room to drink tequila straight out of the bottle and break out my friend’s stick-and-poke tattoo kit.
(A stick-and-poke, for those who don’t know, is a method of giving a tattoo by sticking a needle into a pot of ink and then poking the needle into the skin. One dot at a time, a tattoo is created.)
We laughed and cringed as Hazel, a wonderful artist, marked our bodies with small ink designs. Periodically, one of the adult-adults would pop their heads into my room, marveling at the reckless behavior of the young-adults. But they just laughed and shook their heads. We were too old at this point to be fooled into thinking we were making some grave mistake.
I’ll always think back to that night, with my dear friends sprawled around the room, their heads resting on each other’s stomachs, laughing until tears filled their eyes. There was freedom and joy in everyone’s demeanor. Silly videos were made and songs were sang and memories of the 20+ years I had spent in that room, with those friends by my side rolled through my mind. In that moment, surrounded by those who loved me fully, I could just be myself. Silly, slightly destructive, loved.
I fell asleep that night on my friend’s chest and when I woke in the morning most of them were gone. My room was already packed up and my car was fully loaded. There was nothing else to do. No logical reason to stay for too much longer.
I gave my mom a long hug and she and my dad waved to me from the front porch as I pulled the car out of the driveway. She held it together. Just smiles and excitement for my next chapter. She told me later that as soon as I made it down the street she broke down into sobs.
It’s been 2 years and 7 months since the day I left home. I figured it would all get easier. That over time I would begin to miss my friends, my family and my hometown less. But, in fact, the opposite has happened – it has only gotten harder.
In this new year, I have cried about where I live an estimated six times. On six different occasions, my current location (specifically when thought of in proximity to where I was born) has brought me to tears. This, let me tell you, is not a problem I imagined having.
As a senior in highschool, you couldn’t pay me to stay in my hometown for any longer. I was desperate to leave. Desperate to get away from the scenes I knew so well and the people who all seemed the same. It had become common for me to talk about how much the town annoyed me, how much I thought it had changed, how sheltered I thought it was from the “real” world. Fitting the bill of a disgruntled teenager, I was ready to get out.
When I did pack up and drive to the west coast for college, something interesting happened. I found myself talking to other people about my hometown as if it was the best place in the world. I told my new friends about the beautiful views and the clean crisp air. I told people about the mellow way of life and the friendly people who waved to you on the streets. I compared everything in my new town to my old one, and I found nothing could compare. All of a sudden, I was an advocate for the place I had just left. I lasted one year in California, and then I came back to Colorado to finish school.
Now, years later and on the opposite coast, I’ve found the same phenomenon occurring. There’s a difference now, though – in California the differences between Colorado really weren’t that stark, in Washington, D.C., however, I find myself hard-pressed to find even the smallest of similarities.
There is something about the place you grow up that shapes who you are. For me, there are things about growing up in Colorado that have left a lasting imprint in me about what a good life should be made up of. I miss the Colorado mountains. I miss the crisp air. I miss the fact that back home people don’t give a f**k what you do for work, but they do care about what your favorite hiking trail is. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss having an outlet to get away from the noise and the commotion of society and just slip into nature.
Sometimes, especially on hard days, it brings me to tears.
I’ve had to ask myself many times over the past few years one very hard question: Is it time to go back?
And the answer, time and again, has been no.
Because even though there are things about Colorado that pull me back towards it, like invisible lines of energy reaching through the air, wrapping around my bones and tugging me back from whence I came, there’s a different pull occurring as well. A pull towards staying in what feels uncomfortable. A pull towards opening myself up to something new – a new way of life, a new type of energy. There’s something deep within me that tells me that I need to see if I can find the beauty and the contentment in these spaces of discomfort, even when it would be far easier to retreat back into what is known.
The other day I walked out into the National Arboretum. The air was warm and a light breeze freshened the area. Spring was blooming in full force. As I walked through the tree-lined paths, I marveled at the Azaleas that popped up all around me in pink, white, purple and red. The entire forest was peppered with color.
I walked far enough off the beaten path to an area which seemed quiet and I hung up my hammock. I lay in my hammock, reading my book and gazing out over pink Azaleas and into the tree canopy.
As I looked out over the lush, full, green trees – the type of trees that only grow in a humid climate like the one in D.C. – I felt my whole being flood with appreciation. My mind flashed back to two years earlier, when I had pulled my car onto the George Washington Memorial Highway in the final moments of my journey across the country, towards my new home in D.C.. On that day, I had marveled at those big, lush trees. I felt in awe about the fact that I could be in the same country, but feel worlds away. It wasn’t the beauty I was used to, but it was beautiful all the same.
I have gotten so used to resenting this place for all the ways in which it’s not like Colorado. For the bustling streets, the warm and heavy air, the stressed-out people who never recycle. I’ve forgotten all the reasons I fell in love with the city when I first came here. Those strange, interesting differences that felt so new and exciting for a girl who had gotten so sick of her hometown.
In just the same way in which we sometimes take for granted the things we love, I’d started to forget why this move and this new experience has been so crucial to who I am today. I’d forgotten all there is to be grateful for here.
Living away from a place that calls to your heart is like living with a piece of yourself missing. Yet, I would never have identified that piece within me unless I had gone. The value of leaving home is being able to see what you valued all along.
Those things that I love about my hometown are inside of me. And, if I try hard enough, I can bring those pieces outside of myself and place them all around me. They are in the trees that grow, and the flowers that bloom, and the shy smiles of strangers who pass on the sidewalk. They are wrapped in the arms of my love and in the laughs of my new friends. Home is never that far, because it is part of me. Just as the ink that has settled into my skin from those stick-and-poke tattoos, I carry it with me. It’s just a matter of remembering that it’s been there all along.