I’m home for the summer now. Almost two weeks ago, half of my building walked across a stage and received their high school diplomas, and then mere hours later I frantically hugged each girl goodbye as I raced around my little residence hall, cleaning up the last dust bunnies and sorting through all the piles of donations for the local thrift store in an effort to close everything down by the holy grail hour of 6pm. Then, I spent one blissful week on a deserted campus, drinking iced coffee and laughing and staying out until 4am with this beautiful group of people I had been forced into a professional AND social environment with only nine months ago. I ignored all the packing I had to do until the last few hours before I was scheduled to leave, because I knew that when I looked back on that precious week fifteen years from now, I was going to regret the minutes I didn’t spend with my friends, rather than how much of a frenzied mess I was in those final moments, shoving all my belongings to be stored in one half of the usual space they occupy. Finally, after a week of music, goodbyes, inappropriate card games, and plenty of local beer, I hastily loaded my car with random items I thought I might need between now and August and started driving toward home with only my (apparently ridiculously inadequate, though I did not know this before I started my trip) iPhone navigation app telling me where to go, a front seat full of junk food, and a pounding headache from the whiskey I foolishly imbibed until 3am the night before.
I think it’s safe to say that, after a road trip that included being rerouted by my GPS and taken an hour out of my way, getting stuck in two hours of Chicago rush hour traffic, and an arrival at my overnight stay in Madison nearly three hours later than I expected, my first solo driving journey back home was not at all what an anxiety-ridden, control freak introvert like me would prefer. But I made it in one piece, and suddenly, my arrival back in my hometown seemed…extremely anti-climactic. Sure, my family was excited to see me, my dogs gave me plenty of kisses and smacks with their wildly wagging tails, and I finally got to see the fruits of my parents’ long-anticipated kitchen remodel that was just finished. It was an appropriate homecoming. But somewhere in between opening every cupboard in the new kitchen just to find a coffee mug and attempting to unpack all of my crap in a room that is used mainly to store random knick knacks and the occasional rocking horse (don’t ask), I said to myself, “Why is it that you wanted to spend an entire summer here, again?”
I’ve written about home before. It is not the physical place or the people that make it hard for me to be back. It is the fact that I don’t fit here anymore. The things that are “mine,” the pieces of my new home that make it familiar for me, are not here. I suddenly realized, when trying to plan out how I would be spending my endless days of nothing, that I have fully adjusted to my life in northern Michigan. I just wanted to sit at my favorite coffeeshop and write this blog post, not find some new coffeeshop with baristas who don’t know my name and could very well be annoyed by me sitting there for six hours and only ordering one beverage (doing this probably makes me a jerk no matter where I go, but look, I’m usually broke and at least the employees at my regular places in Michigan pretend they don’t care that I camp out there and nurse a mug of French roast all frickin day). I wanted to order my favorite local beer with dinner, not have to taste a bunch of new Minnesotan ones to find one I like. I wanted to sit, sweat my brains out, and breathe heavily by the gorgeous lake after my morning run kicked my ass, not indoors on the couch in my parents’ living room. I wanted to know exactly where and when the good local music would be playing, I wanted to come home at night to the comfy bed I’ve gotten used to sleeping on for a year, I even wanted to be annoyed by the leaf blowers that frequent the path outside my window each morning and put in my earplugs and go back to sleep just to spite them (…okay, that might be going overboard with the nostalgia). I wanted all of those Michigan things I was so comfortable with to be here as well.
It’s funny, because when I made the initial decision to come home for the summer, it sounded like perfection. Home sounded like this shining beacon of hope when all my previous seasonal plans didn’t line up correctly; I was convinced coming back was the best option for me. I hadn’t had a summer free of work obligations in four years, and the idea of having nothing on my agenda except my family’s upcoming vacation to Florida sounded like pure bliss. This was going to be my break, my chance to make progress on grad school plans, to get that always elusive sleep that I desire during the school year, to maybe go visit friends from college whom I haven’t seen since we graduated. I wasn’t going to be lazy, just “less busy” than usual. Never mind that I hadn’t been home for more than two weeks at a time since I graduated college, or that I had a track record for getting needlessly restless on my second day back every time. How could this go wrong?
How? Because I’ve obviously fallen in love with my new home. And that makes me happy and sad all at the same time. Happy because I had no idea when I signed my initial contract two years ago that it would bring me so much joy and discovery in such a beautiful place. Sad because I know it can’t be permanent, and all these nostalgic feelings I have for it after leaving for the summer have just been a taste of what moving for good will feel like. When you really think about it, the concept of “place” beyond just the physical descriptors is so hard to define, and it’s even harder, when you are someone who doesn’t have a family or roots in a particular location, to make a place feel like one where you belong. But I really do think I’ve made that little corner of Michigan My Place over the past two years, and that makes me even more excited and ready to return for a third year in the fall.
In the meantime, I’m trying to readjust to living in my hometown as an adult again. I’m reminding myself that if I get restless or bored or frustrated, I can jump in my car and drive somewhere (because sometimes when I’m back in my parents’ house, I default to feeling like a teenager with limited freedom all over again). I have things to do, projects to keep myself occupied. I’ve visited the public library under the pretense of studying for the GRE and getting some more writing done. I’ve started making a dent in my summer reading list (mostly chick lit and comedic non-fiction essays, but hey, it’s vacation, I’m not busting out Anna Karenina). I’ve gotten back into exercising. I’m focused on coming out of this summer alive and well, and perhaps even with a new appreciation for the place where I grew up. I don’t think I’ll ever move back here for more than a summer, but maybe this time around, I’ll end up finding some things that make it feel like My Place again.