Monday, July 27, 2009

home is where?

I've never really been somebody who gets homesick. As a child, I would go to camps or on weekends away and expect to feel those pangs that made others cry and mope, but past the age of five I have little to no memory of this actually happening in any sort of major way. The closest I've come in the last ten or fifteen years was probably my first trip to Poland, and that was inspired mostly by jetlag and my terror and frustration at being unable to understand not only spoken communication but written language.

But when I arrived home in Flagstaff this past week, I felt an inexplicable pang. Flagstaff has functioned in recent years as something of a refuge, somewhere to go to see loved ones and mountains and generally clear my head, but for whatever reason on this trip I spent the first two days of my stay thrashing inside of it like an itchy wool blanket. A number of people I'd been hoping to see were out of town or working more than anticipated and I found myself at loose ends, unsure what exactly I should be doing other than eating at Macy's (best veggie biscuits and gravy ever, I swear to god) and shopping with my mom, which honestly can only take you so far. By the afternoon of the first day I was cranky, and by that night I'd pinned down part of the problem: I missed Chicago.

It's probably a little weird, but that sent me into a bit of a tailspin. For years I've been treating Chicago as home but also as a waystation to somewhere else; I tell people that I came here for grad school and just haven't gotten around to moving yet. But to be in my actual hometown--albeit one I visit infrequently and haven't lived in for any length of time since about 2002--and missing my adopted city so deeply made me pause. Where was home, and what did that mean?

In truth, my tiny little crisis was less about the fact that I was feeling uncomfortable in Flagstaff and more about the way my connection to Chicago has changed in the past year. For most of my time here it truly has felt like a waystation, with friends and lovers who came and went, careers that have waxed and waned, and more apartments than you could easily shake a stick at. I was, in fact, planning a move to Denver for sometime next year, a change of scenery that I hoped would give me new direction and perhaps a push towards whatever it is I want to do next. But somehow, after almost five years and just when I'd given up on this city, I seem to have grown roots. There are all these buzzwords--happiness! community! decent job!--that suddenly mean more to me than they have in a long time. It's a good thing, certainly, but it somehow took me slightly by surprise.

My trip ended up going well, thankfully. On the first night when I, a generally fast walker, was out-walked by somebody on the hill up to my parents' house I cursed my City Girl lungs up and down; by the third day I was cheerfully accepting my status as a visitor instead of a some sort of removed native as I puffed my way up a mountain, and I was much happier for the change. Being from Chicago doesn't mean I can't love Flagstaff, just as being originally from Arizona doesn't mean I can't love my life here in the big city. I miss mountains, but for now I think I'm too centered here to leave.


pulley-whipped said...

i always feel a disconnect when back in arizona. it makes me feel somewhat like a failure, but then the cliche really rings true: you can never go home again. so appreciating the food is really all you can do :) oh and the mountains.

Mugsie said...

Mwah ha ha! Chicago has pulled you in too! I know a number of people that didn't ever expect to feel at home here/were only in Chicago for work or school and wound up feeling at home here. I think it's magic. Anyway - glad you're going to be around because it's always good to have friends in the city, so I'd miss you if you went to Denver!

erica said...

so...does that mean the denver plan is no longer? that makes me sad...i mean, i'm glad you're rooted, but i wanted you to be rooted somewhere i might be on occasion...because this is all about me, me, me!!!

Alicia Dabney said...

You are a beautiful writer.

Rosiecat said...

Chicago IS magic. I love it here too and am so glad you finally feel at home in this city. This post was awesome! It makes me want to whip out Windows Live Writer and start writing about how I'm leaving Chicago--a post that I know I'll have to write soon, if for no other reason than to say good-bye to the city.

BUT! I have two more months here, so first I've got to make my list of the things I want to do before I leave. Anyone want to go to the planetarium with me? :-)

pulley-whipped said...

you're leaving?? i am too. headed to SF at the end of sept. and i will totes go to the planetarium!

ammie said...

It's funny, I just went to the planetarium, and got a surprise personal tour from the president! Very exciting, and totally a good place to visit :)

Rosiecat said...

pulley-whipped: To the planetarium! Let's do it! Anyone else?

You're leaving too? I've got a new job in Texas, and I decided the Chicago/Texas commute was just too much. Plus the neighbors got creeped out when I set up a molecular biology lab in my kitchen.

I want to come visit you in SF, assuming that means San Francisco :-)