“Where did you grow up?”
When you meet someone new, it always seems to be one of the first questions on the table. And I’ve never been quite sure how to answer. I was born in Troy, OH; moved to Westerville until I was 2, moved back to Troy until I was 5, moved back to Worthington until I was 13, moved back to Troy until I went to college.
So if you consider grade school as “growing up,” then I grew up in Worthington. If you consider high school as those formative years, then Troy is my hometown.
Fast forward to a month after college graduation. I, along with many of my classmates, knew I wanted to move to Chicago, with or without a job. The economy was crap – it was the year the U.S. invaded Iraq; I remember listening to the airstrikes on the radio on the way to a job interview in Detroit – but none of us could stomach the idea of moving back home until the economy leveled out.
Chicago was the closest big city to our little college town of Oxford, and it was big, but comfortable. Midwestern.
The seven years I lived in Chicago were some of the best – and worst – years of my life. Chicago is the city that defined by 20s. I had always been worldly, but it was in Chicago where I truly learned to take care of and support myself. I moved eight times in seven years. I had roommates, I lived alone. I took the train to work, I took the bus to work. I had amazing jobs, I enrolled in photography school. I explored, explored, explored.
I become a professional. I became an adult. I became a woman.
It was also in Chicago that I learned some really hard lessons about who I was. I came to terms with my lifelong battle with depression, and tried (and often failed) to navigate through relationships, both friendship and romantic.
And, it was in Chicago where I first fell in love. Like most first loves, it was a relationship built on total insecurity; a relationship spent testing how much the other person could take. How much do you love me? How much can I push you? What are you willing to do for me? Do you really love me? Prove it.
It was a toxic relationship and one that my friends will tell you was terrible for me from the start. But it was love, and I let it destroy me.
The breakup left me totally broken. A shell of who I was. I was reckless and irresponsible, and lied and manipulated my way through each day. I was dangerously close to sabotaging even the closest friendships in my life, all because I had completely forgotten who I was. Had completely and totally lost my way. That last year in Chicago was the lowest I had ever been.
As I started to climb my way out of the hole I had dug for myself, I serendipitously got a call from a job recruiter looking to a fill position for an agency in Columbus. Coming back to Ohio had been on my mind – more out of a need to escape – but I hadn’t seriously considered it.
Until that moment.
That call changed my life. Had it not been for this agency, I’m scared to think of who I would be, still living in Chicago. I desperately needed to come home. To be closer to my parents (WHO THEN MOVED TO TENNESSEE, y’all). To be closer to friends from college. To shed everything that had happened in those last few years. To get away from the noise and the bustle. To press ‘restart’ in the absolute truest sense of the word.
And like a parent welcoming home a child, Columbus folded me into the warmest, gentlest, safest embrace. The city became my fortress as I desperately tried to figure out who I was. It protected me. It gave me this safe space to figure my shit out. It created and nurtured this little bubble in which I could slowly start to reconnect with my family and friends. And most importantly, myself.
I was part of Columbus. Part of the community. Part of the culture. One of the people. Columbus was me, I was Columbus.
And, I fell in love in Columbus. Not the toxic, insecure, passive aggressive kind of love. The real, healthy love that comes from two people – most importantly – loving themselves. Columbus – you did that for me.
But like any child, I knew I couldn’t stay home forever. It’s safe here for me, but I don’t do safe. And as the fog started to clear, I heard Chicago’s siren call.
While it seemed like a quick decision for Chris and I to move to Chicago, it’s been on the table for nearly a year. When we first started to consider the move, it was before the wedding, before his heart surgery, before everything. And we realized that our need to move was more a need to get away from all of the pressures of wedding planning and his upcoming surgery. We wanted to escape, and thought Chicago was the answer. It wasn’t. We needed to stay here and face life head on.
And so we did.
After Chris totally recovered from surgery we realized that Chicago was still pulling us in. We realized that now was the right time to go.
And, the universe agreed. The ease and speed at which we prepped and sold the house, I got a job, Chris got a transfer approved, and we found a place to live (that last one much slower than the rest) – we knew it was the universe gently urging us on.
“You’re doing the right thing,” it seemed to be saying. “Keep going.”
So as I start the clock on my last 48 hours in this city, Columbus is saying something eerily similar.
“You’re doing the right thing,” it seems to be saying. “Keep going. But know we will always be here for you when you come back.”
To the city that truly raised me, I love you, so. In so many ways you saved my life. You created this safe space for me to grow up over the past six years. To become a woman who is strong, independent and capable. Who can deal with my own dragons head on. Who can love, and be loved.
You gave me my husband. You gave me my family. You gave me some of the best friends I have ever had. You gave me life. And for that, I could never, ever repay you.
Until next time,