There’s something strange about moving from a place you’ve grown out of. That’s a direct blow to some of my readers, so I apologize a bit, but not too much. Not so much that I should feel direct remorse, because for some, Wisconsin is it. The perfect fit. And it’s really beautiful. I will give you that. We recently met a Georgian who drove a truck for twenty years, and he said that driving through Wisconsin was the most beautiful place he’d ever been to in his life. I visibly flinched, imagining all of the other places that would make Wisconsin seem insignificant, but then I smiled, and I thought, “I can see that”.
I grew up there, amidst the forests and the lakes and the hills and the deer, but I still can appreciate its beauty. It’s winters are harsh, but there is nothing like a freshly fallen, untouched snow. Apart from Spring, which is generally a mix of mud and ice, Summer is magic, with bonfires at night and gator-free lakes during the day. Autumn is breathtaking, and I’ve been longing for it in a way I can’t describe.
But like all memories past, it’s easy to remember bits and pieces. That’s what memory does. Given enough time, enough space, the bad parts begin to fade and the good stands out so brightly that it seems as though there were never bad times.
Isn’t that strange? The way our brains are capable of such sheer distortion? And yet, it’s almost a nice respite from the daily–to reminisce for a moment, as if there does exist perfection.
I realized that today, as I contacted friends who live back home. Home. Something I’d never thought I’d do–use that reference toward someplace that I don’t currently reside. There’s something, though, about a place in the world that will always be yours, despite how far you move and how long you’re gone. That, no matter what, there will be people who will greet you when you visit and will occupy your heart while you’re away. And that’s what was so apparent today, as I talked with friends, however briefly, from my home state. It isn’t that you just know each others’ stories and hardships, but you understand each others’ roots. You comprehend the disappointment in silly things like not being able to find a decent beer, or how excited you get when you find a Culver’s, or how strange it is for people to have gone their entire lives without seeing snow. Without driving in it. Playing in it. Sledding on it. Eating it.
You also comprehend the deeper things, the ones that are harder to explain. The thrilling sensation of leaves crunching beneath your boots. Or, the sheer exhilaration of standing on the rocks on a windy day along Lake Michigan and being assaulted by a wave. The way strangers talk without it being weird. How even though there’s a bar on every corner, it isn’t trashy, just fun.
I don’t miss it, and yet, I long for it just the same. It’s an absent part of me my body is fighting to get back, and yet, I know it isn’t all I am anymore. Not that it ever was, but sometimes it takes walking away from something to determine your worth. To understand that where you’re from does not define who you are as a person. That small town does not mean small person or small ideas. Even if you are the only person in your neighborhood who knows what an ice scraper is, or kringle, or fried cheese curds.
It’s a strange thing, to leave something behind. It’s even stranger to leave people behind. Whole human beings, so far away they might as well be in another dimension.
And yet, there’s joy in not spending a lifetime wondering what if. And there’s joy in not being disappointed.
And it’s okay to feel an attachment to a place that was once all you knew.