Sometimes we come across folks sort of by accident that are going through something that we have gone through too. Sometimes we want to reach across the country and give them a hug, and sometimes all we can say is, "Yeah, me too." So, this is an oldie but a goodie from December...and it's my way of telling those folks going through a change...."Yeah, me too."
I remember sitting in the audience of my cousin Tucker's elementary school Christmas play the year I graduated from college. I was pretending to be annoyed at the kids not hitting all the notes, and side-eying the parents who elbowed their neighbors with pride when their kid got to sing a solo verse. Secretly, though, I loved it.
I went to college near my favorite aunt and uncle who treated me like one of their own kids - feeding me, buying me presents, letting me do laundry, and always letting me curl up on the big red couch we affectionately called "the bus" and watch a marathon of 24. I don't know if Jack Bauer ever got that chopper from Chloe, damn it. I would help take the kids trick-or-treating and babysit those three blond terrors whenever I could. It still weirds me out that they're grown-ass people now. Gross.
The night of that Christmas show, I had a sense of belonging that I didn't know I had been looking for. It was also the first time that it hit me that I was going to be leaving the place I had called home for so long. I was leaving the people that I had called home.
Being so taken care of felt amazing. I had my own family in New York who loved me more than life, so it wasn't a love thing. It was that Colorado kind of got stuck with me, but then chose to make me part of itself. There's just something about being chosen, isn't there?
I loved living in Colorado. It felt so foreign. The grocery stores were different. Everyone had accents. They wore cowboy boots to the mall and cowboy hats to weddings. Life seemed slower, easier somehow, and I wanted to be part of it all. I wanted to eat all of their food and drink all of their beer and sit in the mountains and be one of them. I started listening to country music. I had a distinctive twang in my voice when I called home. I wore fleece jackets and flip flops in the winter. I started telling people that the sunsets were orange and blue because God was a Broncos fan. I wanted to be part of all the everyday things that happened there, because it felt there was a part of me that really belonged finally.
I willingly gave myself over to becoming a Coloradan, mostly because I didn't know who I was anyway, so I might as well start fresh.
I thought my nerves at the Christmas show were bad...until I hit the week of my graduation. I felt such a desperation that I couldn't exactly put my finger on. It was like a deep hunger mixed with rolling nausea; exhaustion and jittery. I found myself one day on the other side of my boss' desk trying to put things into words: Don't forget me. Don't move on without me. Don't let me go. Someone beg me to stay.
I burst into tears, and kept crying that snot-bubbly gasping cry that's super sexy on everyone. I told him I didn't like who I was at home, so I didn't want to go back to be it. I told him that I felt like I was being pushed underwater. I felt like I was walking out of a life I loved, and everything in me was screaming NO! I asked him to give me a permanent job. I told him I wish I had gotten pregnant (not by him, obvi, he's gay) or at the least had a lease I couldn't break.
He looked at me for a while, probably trying not to laugh, then got up, and wrapped me in his big arms and said, "You have to go home. I'm going to miss you, but you have stuff to do." I think he actually meant that I had literal stuff to do, like pack, which I couldn't even begin to process, but I took the broader meaning and ran with it.
I did have to go home. And I did have stuff to do. Things end. Sometimes we have to go back and finish things. It isn't glamorous.
Now in my old crotchety age, I get that happiness is totally in eye of the beholder. Just like beauty and what the best toppings on your DeFazio's pizza are. I don't believe in blindly following happiness. Well, I don't believe in it anymore. Following happiness is really just chasing happiness, which means you don't actually have it.
I don't regret leaving Colorado, not anymore. Sometimes I look back on my time there with a misty-eyed fondness. Mostly because I miss the new-ness of it all...I miss how new I felt and smelled. I miss how well I slept when I first moved there, and I miss how excited I was that I was acclimating to a new place all by myself. I don't regret leaving, but I do wish I knew at 23 that it was ok to be really effing sad, that I didn't need to cover it up, and that the pain would dull eventually like everything does with time and perspective.
I also didn't know who I was or where the real me would be. I wonder...where are you? Like, really. Where is the you that you want people to see? What do you have to do to let that person shine through? Do you have to go home and finish a few things, then head somewhere else? Is the real you in a house in the country or in an apartment in the city? Does it matter where you are? Do you need to break ties with those old friends that you know you'll end up doing something destructive with out of habit? Does it matter who you choose to be with? What's the work that you need to do for yourself?
There's no way around it, going home can be tough. If you're leaving your Colorado, I wouldn't give you advice even if I actually had it. There are some things we don't have room to hear when we're so sad about saying goodbye. It's possible you're going to feel like you can't catch your breath. You're probably going to feel misunderstood, but that's nothing new, is it? You might hate the smell of your own apartment. Food won't taste the same. You'll want to sleep until your body decompresses. Go slowly at first, like coming up to the surface from scuba diving.
You can go home, and yes you will be different. No, the people who think they know you best really won't. You might not have the energy to tell stories from your time away. How could you tell them all the small things that happened? All the little transformative things? You might even want to keep them to yourself. At least you'll have that one thing that's just yours.
You know, it's possible that you might be the one who bounces back to home life with a surprising resistance! I hope that with everything in me. Maybe coming home will look more like a stop to refuel, rather than a final destination. That is awesome news if that's your perspective. Why are you reading this? You have it figured out, man.
Well, just in case a little sadness creeps up, remember you're not alone in this. Every single person has a Colorado they loved and left. It might have been a person, or a school, or a job, or even a vacation (RIP IreSpain).
Take it slow and let the people who think they get what you're going through take care of you. It's their way of showing they care when they have nothing to say.
Soup and snacks are the best expressions of empathy I know.