I left my hometown of Bozeman, Montana, in 2002 to attend a large college in the big city. When I left, our population was pushing 37,000 and Montana as a whole had less than a million people living in it. Ten hours later I arrived in Seattle at the University of Washington where I was one of 80,000 faces on campus and lived in a city with over half a million people.
Lucky for me, school didn't feel big for long. I met a community of fellow band nerds and fell into a rhythm of class, work, band, homework, sleep, repeat. I spent that first Thanksgiving at home, but in the fifteen years since it's the only time I've eaten turkey with my family. I went home for Christmas too, but spent the summer in Seattle establishing residency for in-state tuition. In the next three years I kept going home for Christmas, but by the time I graduated I was ready to travel and visit new places. I went from fives visits a year to two. Then one. Then one every other year.
While in college, something shifted and Montana didn't feel like home anymore. My dingy, basement apartment in the city didn't feel like home either but this place - Seattle - was growing into an ever important part of my identity. I would always be the girl from Montana, but now I was the girl from Montana making a way for herself in Seattle.
I've been gone almost as long as I lived in Bozeman - 15 years of my adult life. I had my first drink in Seattle, went on my first first-date in Seattle, got my first professional job in Seattle, and bought my first home in Seattle. Going away and coming back, I always feel a wave of relaxation wash over me as the plane circles above the puget sound. I think how nice it feels to be home.
On a recent trip to visit my family - the first in two years - I started reflecting on how much things have changed since I was a kid and how much my childhood shaped who I am today. Growing up with unlimited access to the outdoors, my parents encouraged me and my sisters to go outside, play in the dirt, and explore our curiosities. My dad especially encouraged us to stand up for what we believed in. He taught us to be strong, independent, and not take shit from anyone - including him. He liked that we were competitive - even if it meant burping contests at the dinner table. When people call me sassy I know I came by it honestly. Once, my dad told me to reach into my wallet, pull out my "bitch card", and play it. In doing so I learned to not settle for less than what I deserve. I'm still learning the ways in which my childhood was incredibly unique and special, and I grow more and more grateful as the years go on.
I've been gone a long time, but people still ask me when I plan to move back to Montana. It's a hard question to answer. Years ago I was reading a book by Tom Brokaw, and I think he really put it best:
“I put my home state of South Dakota in a rear view mirror and drove away. I was uncertain of my final destination but determined to get well beyond the slow rhythms of life in a the small towns and rural culture of the Great Plains. I thought that the influences of the people, the land, and the time during my first twenty-two years of life were part of the past. But gradually I came to know how much they meant to my future, and so I have returned often as part of a long pilgrimage or renewal. When I do return… I’m just someone who grew up around here, left a while back, and never really answers when he’s asked, “When you gonna move back home?” I am caught in the place all too familiar to small-state natives who have moved on to a rewarding life in larger arenas: I don’t want to move back, but in a way I never want to leave. I am nourished by every visit.” --Tom Brokaw, A Long Way From Home
You can't recreate magic. You can only be lucky to have experienced its grandeur. Maybe someday I'll go back, but probably not. In a way I never can.