Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When I Can't Go Home Again

In 2011, having reluctantly moved back to my hometown, I made a list of little things I would always remember about going to college in Gainesville:

"UF campus. Ward's market. Krishna Lunch. Friends of the Library book sales. The bookstore with the vegetarian cafe. The random smell of incense in stores. The way the afternoon sun shone in my top floor loft apartment. The cow pastures I lived across the street from. Tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes in the winter, waking me up with their trumpeting calls. Paynes Prairie. Discovering the joy of birding. Being poor but optimistic for the future. My first real love affair. Buying my first legal alcohol. Meeting people from dozens of countries and continents. "Hare Krishna" chants at lunchtime. Free bus service for students all over town. Groovy historic neighborhoods. That little seedy pool hall on Main Street, with Bo Diddley on the jukebox. Awesome thrift stores. Cruising around to Tom Petty songs. Meditation. Trees, trees everywhere, 500 year old oak trees trailing Spanish moss on hot summer days while cicadas buzzed deafeningly. Trails and parks and pockets of wild places to explore, all around town. Day trips to Cedar Key. Overnight trip to Seahorse Key. A small town that welcomed everyone of all races, creeds, and orientation. Freedom. Youth. A feeling that I was home."

Fast-forward 3 years, and I'm back in Gainesville, where I thought I wanted to be settled permanently...only to find out, it's not home after all. As soon as I moved back here last July, I realized immediately that it was a mistake. I'd been away for five years, subsisting on rose-colored memories of good times in college with good friends. But all of my friends have moved away, my then-boyfriend is long gone from my life, and I'd conveniently forgotten the shitty parts of Gainesville: the suicide-inducing freezing gray winters, the broiling summers with no breeze at all, the stagnant job market, the rednecks, and how much I miss living by the beach. Despite the 50,000+ student population, the town seems so much smaller than it did when I was 20.

Is it time, or my own experiences that have left me with nowhere that feels like home? When I came back to the States from New Zealand last year, I stood in the LA airport and almost broke down in tears because I realized the U.S. just didn't feel like home to me. I'd left the country to travel because I had nothing keeping me here -- no career, no significant other, no family, no dog anymore. And I fooled myself into thinking that I could visit a few countries, travel for a few weeks, then move back to Gainesville and buy a house and get a job and somehow be happy.

But that's not me. There's nowhere that feels like home to me, and I'm trying to come to terms with that being OK.

I still love Florida, and the Florida coast may be the only place that'll ever come close to feeling like home, but the more I travel, the more I realize that not only is the world so much bigger than anything I thought I could dream up, but that it's also totally feasible to live out of a backpack for months or years at a time. I like that idea. I dig it, and I'm tired of trying to live my life in the way that other people have tried to convince me that I should live it.

Ever since I was a kid I've had an obsession with running away. In second grade, whenever I needed a break from class, I'd go hide in the bathroom and imagine that the tiles on the walls had a pattern that formed a secret doorway to another world. If I could find that doorway, I could escape my boring humdrum life and go have magical adventures. And I might not ever have to come back.

By the time I was eleven, I was making maps of my hometown and elaborate plans for running away. I tried to calculate how many miles I could cover in a day, the best paths to avoid detection, where I'd hide when the inevitable search-and-rescue teams came looking for me, and the dumpsters where I could find food. I had a list of things I'd carry in my little backpack. I wondered how long I could make it without getting caught --  if I could make it out to California to become a movie star or to join the circus.

The need for escape haunted me throughout my teenage years. I suspect normal kids would learn to drive and have some of that need fulfilled, but at that age I began to suffer from crippling depression and anxiety that left me unable to leave the house, much less my town or my state. My dreams never died, though. I lived them vicariously through Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett lyrics. I needed to escape my suffocating small town full of losers, and I wanted to live on a boat and sail to exotic ports-of-call and have love affairs with strangers and the kinds of adventures that little quiet good-girl Krista was not supposed to have. 

I never did have the guts to run away. In addition to the depression and anxiety, all my life I lived in fear of doing the "wrong" thing, disappointing my parents (who shot down any artistic, bohemian, or unconventional thing I expressed interest in) and finding myself tied to a place or a job or a boyfriend and never getting to actually do the things I dreamed of doing.

But I'm going to do them now. I started travelling a few years ago, first for just a week or two on vacation, then longer trips of several weeks or a month. And I like it. Beginning in July I'm giving up my apartment, putting my stuff in storage, and taking a year off. Maybe it will extend to two years. Maybe I won't come back to the States at all. (Except California. There's still that little-girl part of me who has big dreams of L.A., and I can indulge her fantasy for a bit.) 

I no longer have any place I call "home", but that doesn't matter. When you have no home, you can't get homesick. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. "I ain't rich, but Lord, I'm free." I'm just starting to really learn what those phrases mean.

I have a lot of lost years of living to make up for.

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