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.