Friday morning, I woke up on an air mattress on the 11th floor of an Arlington, Virginia high rise, startled at the “world apart” feeling I had in my heart. A week ago, at this time, I was waking up in my Lincoln, Nebraska apartment…two days earlier, it was in my younger sister’s bed at my mom’s house…yesterday, a hotel room in Indianapolis and now
I am here again, waking up in DC. I’m back in “this town.” I have a car; it’s parked three blocks over in a garage. There’s an apartment in this building with my name on it– I just have to wait 15 minutes for the office to open so I can go get the key and move in. There’s a desk in an office building downtown, ready for me to sit down at it on Monday morning. And everything is back to the way I feel like it should be.
The drive from Omaha to DC is 20 hours. I’ve never done it in one fell swoop– I’m saving those crazy pills for when I get stranded in DC two days before Christmas without a flight in sight (it’s almost happened to me before)– and this was the third time I have made that trip: on my way to DC in 2008, on my way to Omaha in 2013, and back to DC in 2014. I usually split up the drive in two’s: 10 hours to Indianapolis and 10 more to DC. I’m still amazed how long it takes to drive that whole way. Iowa is a beautiful drive, Illinois and Indiana are bland, Ohio is also bland until you get about an hour east of Columbus into the Ohio River valley and it all gets more beautiful from there: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and especially Maryland. Lots of Appalachian Mountain peaks. It’s a tricky drive for someone who is only used to rolling hills– I was grateful the entire time that I didn’t rent a U-Haul truck. I may have lost my mind driving that thing.
Filling up the time, since I’ve always done this trip alone, usually depends on my mood. The first time I drove out, I had an iPod full of music ready to listen to, but instead I drove along listening to whatever radio station was available in every town I passed. I listened to a lot of Delilah and NPR. I think I was sort of out of it. The second time I drove that trip, when I was so messed up from leaving that I decided I needed “something neutral” to listen to that didn’t remind me of DC, I was just getting used to my new car and didn’t know how the radio worked so I would turn on my iPhone and listen to music until it’s pitiful speakers left me craving surround sound and then I’d flip through the stations, praying for a legitimate radio station. I was met with a lot of hard rock, classical music, contemporary Christian, and grains commodities and ag talk radio. (Later I figured out how to search for stations that weren’t programmed). This time around, I listened to a lot of Disney soundtracks. Don’t judge– I turn on Disney movies when I feel sad because they remind me of a simpler time and they make me happy plus, being around my Disney- obsessed younger sisters for nearly a year, I watched a lot of them.
The truth is, I was feeling pretty homesick on this drive out to DC. I wasn’t happy with my job in Nebraska, but I was happy when I was home with my family. I spent nearly ten months bonding with my mom over crochet and shopping, getting to know my younger sisters and seeing the absolutely beautiful young women they are becoming, running with my twin sister at the Pilgrim Pacer Half and the Lincoln Half, getting to know my brothers, one as he was about to leave for California, and learning about their hopes and dreams for the future. I spent more time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Omaha and saw that my two twin cousins are becoming two of the most morally stand-up and hilarious dudes I know and seeing my younger cousin fall into her new role as a mother, like she was meant all along to nurture a young soul. I was there for Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years. I saw two cousins and my youngest sister graduate from high school. I was there for a mini-family reunion at the zoo. And now we have a new kitten that I got to help adopt and who I am now totally in love with. For once, I got a front-row seat to my family’s gatherings and events and didn’t have to see the photos on Facebook and wish that I was there. I was there.
Saying goodbye after nearly a year that I was completely blessed to have was harder than I thought. You think that since you’ve been through it a hundred million times before after holidays home and me being a “divorce kid” that you “know” how to handle a goodbye, but that cocktail of deep sadness to be leaving combined with the curious longing to leave and a pinch of guilt for feeling that way tastes the same no matter how much you drink it.
Before I left, I was so exhausted from moving and the immense cost of it all that I was an emotional wreck who almost put off the drive to lay on my mom ‘s couch and not do anything but watch movies and rest. But she convinced me that I needed to go and just get there. I think I cried until I got to Des Moines, about 2 hours away. For much of the drive, I talk-texted my sister, which kept me company. I thought about what was waiting for me back East, but all I really had was a job description and a few interactions with soon-to-be colleagues, and a brief evening with a friend at the apartment complex I would be living in. I didn’t have a big picture to think about. But I was nonetheless excited for the chance to start all the way over. A wrong career turn I took nearly a year ago has course-corrected. I don’t even think I realize all of what it means yet. And I’m okay with not understanding it all yet.