When I was young, the thought of change scared me to death.
Nightmares of moving out of my childhood home robbed me of sleep. My heart broke when friends were forced to move away. I wept tears over the transfer of our old refrigerator from the kitchen to the basement. Change was not my friend. Change was a sworn enemy.
My resentment of this phenomenon would, in time, suffer its demise at the hand of my foe. My hatred for change changed itself. And not in a slight way, either. Instead of fleeing the unknown, I pursued it in relentless haste.
I came to crave change as I grew older. No longer was it the monster in my closet but a coveted jewel. By 17, I was chasing novelty and dreaming of escaping the constant that was my hometown. I wanted to get out as fast as possible.
The first manifestation of this was college. I left my home at 18 to go craft a new persona in Missouri. Anxiety held no bearing as my parents bid me farewell in my dorm’s parking lot. As I waved them off, I thought back to younger me and laughed at how fearful she would be. These leaps into the unknown would not suit her as they now suited me. I wondered how such an evolution came to be. Or if it was even a gradual shift in perspective at all. Thinking back, it was more so akin to flipping a switch.
Four years came and went with this town as the backdrop. With it came boundless amounts of world-altering change. I entered Columbia, Missouri one person and left as one hundred others.
Columbia was a loud and unpredictable place. I was infatuated with it and the opportunities for discovery. The first year was defined by this term. Unknowns were everywhere you looked. Never would you encounter something already seen. Not when you weren’t a local. I found the newness beautiful and intoxicating.
Days spent exploring and laying claim to local sits evolved into nights with no expectations. Rowdy college kids flocked to Columbia’s main street, drunk off liquor and high on independence. My introductory year in the town snagged me in this web of youthful chaos. I never used to party.
Never used to.
I donned the hat of young, wild and free. Let it sit on my head until its weight was uncomfortable. After one too many nights of ending up alone and existential in the basement room of my sophomore year apartment, I jumped.
Columbia adopted a new shade as I settled into a very serious long-term relationship. This venture was the antonym to my previous year. Some side of an entirely different coin.
The world was rose-tinted with love and easy to traverse. I donned the hat of stable, responsible and committed. Let it sit on my head until its weight was uncomfortable. After the song about being a caged bird got too loud, I opened the latch and escaped. On into the next adventure I fell.
My college town no longer held the same mysticism that drew me in. After four years, I knew the goodbye I bid to Columbia was a permanent one.
What followed consisted of the patterns I was now used to. I returned home and became restless once more. The unchanging landscape of my childhood was deterring. I resented this aspect of the place I knew like the back of my hand. I was desperate to flee.
My first idea was to travel to Korea and teach there with my friends. This fell through after improper planning and a loss of enthusiasm. I bid farewell to this plan and settled into the idea of staying behind with reluctance. I was stuck in my parents’ home for the foreseeable future. My intentions to escape were stronger than ever.
A stroke of luck hit me in the summer that followed my return. A golden opportunity served to me on a platter. I met the woman who would become the overseer of the adventures that followed me. So rich with uncertainty. So teeming with change. I signed up for the ride of a lifetime and fled home.
Europe took the next two years of my life. No day was like the other in those first months. I entered this world one person only to leave it as thousands more.
I discovered Athens. Learned a bit of Greek. Never encountered the same person twice. Never worked with the same person twice either. This was the epitome of chaotic good and I embraced the moments as they came.
From Athens I found my home in Paris, France. This iconic gem of culture and history took me in and nursed me further. The nights spent being young and wild and free in Columbia paled in comparison to the nights I encountered here. I took that hat and put it on again.
The experiences took place over months that felt like decades. Once a university graduate looking to begin work at a raw-meat testing lab, now an international fashion model mingling with the elites of society. I was hooked to the exclusivity of it all. To the random sequence of events that got me here in the first place.
I settled in to the Parisian life just as I had Columbia. The excitement faded a bit after that initial trip. I got used to the world I inhabited. I infused more magic into the city by finding a kindred spirit and growing to love them. I swapped hats. I rode the wave of new love and discovery as I did before. Paris seemed like the real deal. The place my soul belonged.
Those days in Paris are cherished. The love I found there no less so. I thought I was in the clear and that this was the end game. I would continue this little life until I was gone. This idea was certain to me. One unshakeable and true til the end. My naivete forgot the nature of time. How it has a way of shaving excitement from things. Time went to work on this enthusiasm ever so slowly.
I went from basking in the sun beside the love of my life to waking far past the sunrise, hopeless and stagnant. My joy was swapped for a depression I could not escape. I changed again from pixie to troll.
Is this who I am? I questioned myself most as I rose from those sleepless nights and put myself together bit by bit. Paris’ luster faded to be replaced by a dull gray. I walked the streets for hours in search of what I missed. I ignored the explanations I knew deep within myself. I could beat them if I tried hard enough.
The restlessness bug came for me in spite. Bit me hard enough to make me reconsider the life I led. I saw one fatal misstep after the other. My relationship was falling to pieces before me. Home wasn’t home after all. Not in this context. After months, I stepped away and left this treasure of mine. I bid farewell to Paris, to my love, to the friends I held so dear. I returned to Omaha.
Here we are. Omaha, Nebraska. Two months deep into my latest stay. Something is different about this stretch. Changes abound, just as I liked them.
The biggest shift was the lack of resentment I held for the familiar. From detestation to admiration of the unshakeable identity of this city. It dawned on me in these fledgling months of 2020.
I spent the years of my youth trying hard to escape Omaha only to realize at 25 that it was a very special place.
For as much as I craved change, a comfort exists in constants. Omaha possesses a spirit like my own. Omaha made me, infused itself into me.
You can try to outrun your birth town, stake claims on other cities as being more home than home is. And maybe this works for some. I thought that was how it would work for me. Turns out I was wrong.
Omaha opened itself up to me in a way I never knew before. Rich pockets of experience took me on adventures that paralleled those in other parts of the globe. They were made so much more special because of the company that followed me through them. Nebraskans are great; my people. I am sitting in this landlocked city with a deep love for them. Nebraska nice. It’s true to life.
I do not know if ever I will find someone I like more than the someones that come from Omaha. Nor do I know if ever I will have such an extensive love story with any other place.
A friend said it best over tea.
Omaha is a great place to return to.
It is. And as I continue to run from her, I know I will always come back with a love that hid itself from me until it was ready for a proper introduction.
Omaha is home. That will never change.