Five years ago I left Boston and never wanted to come back. Not even a little bit.
Five days from now I’ll be moving back to Boston – or “shipping up to Boston,” I should say. And I couldn’t be happier.
Plenty has happened in this half-decade. I finished a soccer career in Germany; moved to San Francisco; met my husband; got my first “real” job; went to Paris; cohabited; changed apartments – four times; got engaged; went to Rome; went to Vegas – three times; moved to New York City; got married; switched jobs; switched jobs again. But the activities of life are less important than the understanding they can bring. And in many ways I feel that I left Boston as someone else. And I’m coming home as me.
From a certain vantage point, you could say I’ve made a life out of leaving. Leaving Boston, leaving Harvard permanently and to study abroad, leaving Germany, leaving San Francisco, leaving New York City, leaving one job for another. Transience is a common state of being for a 20-something, I suppose. There’s something exhilarating about starting somewhere new as someone new, exploring, and then packing up to leave it all behind and begin again. But it can get lonely. Even if you have a partner in nomadic crime.
Eventually you want to be able to answer the question “Where are you from?” without running through a laundry list of cities. You want to recognize the strangers on your street. You want to be able to give directions without referring to your iPhone. You want to build a life and traditions with friends. After all this time spent running from home, eventually you want to create your own.
This is a very different tune than the one I used to sing. I was so relieved when I touched down on the West Coast and escaped the burden of the East Coast’s eat-or-be-eaten mentality. Living in San Francisco, Jason and I thought we had gamed the system, figured it all out, seen the light. But turns out paradise can get boring.
When Jason and I were experiencing the 3 year San Francisco itch, we finally conceded that no matter how hard we tried to conquer or ignore it, there was a New Englander in us desperate to get out. But as much as we wanted to go east, the idea of moving back to Boston was pregnant with a permanence that we weren’t quite ready for. New York City would be the glamorous truck-stop on the way home. We left the door open to the possibility of making a life in the Big Apple. But four seasons later, our Apple had rotted. It was time to go home.
This will be the first time I’m “returning.” And as ready as I am, there’s some apprehension. Without the shiny distraction of “new” – life is a lot more real. You have to rely on yourself to create the feeling of adventure that is part and parcel of exploring new places. When you land somewhere new, the expectations are different, too. Surviving, in any capacity, is an achievement. Coming home, surviving isn’t as easily “enough.” And in the same way that we tend to revert to our childhood roles during family get-togethers, there’s the threat of reverting to who you were before you left, and forgetting who you’ve become since.
I suppose this next move is a bit of a test. A challenge to see if all this “growing” has been permanent or just a way of coping with new environments. I do believe that on some level a person is a person is a person, so to speak. We are who we are. But living in new places gives us a chance to see what parts of our personality are reactive and which are fundamental. To weed out the bad and nurture the good. Maybe we don’t really know how far we’ve come until we go back to where we started.
T.S. Eliot famously wrote that “home is where one starts from.” In this case it may also be where I end. But, to lean on Eliot a bit more, “In my end is my beginning.” Moving home is a new chapter. A new adventure. I may not be conquering a new place in the world, but I am certainly exploring a new place in life — boarding a flight to local-ville just outside wife-dom with a stop-over in car ownership, home ownership, and the possibility of a relocation to the suburb of mother-land.
In the end, though, if traveling has taught me one thing, it’s that a place is just a place. The people you share it with are what bring it to life. They are what change you – help you grow, if you let them. They are the adventure. Boston has no shortage of people – and some of my favorite people, at that.
“Coming back” may be the greatest adventure of all.