This is one of the responses I got when I asked you guys for writing prompts: In what ways has your life turned out differently than you thought it would when you were growing up? This post is part 4 of a five-part series in which I answer this question.
I was never one of those kids who was just itching to leave the Midwest, but I did always assume that life would end up carrying me away from it. But to date, that hasn’t quite happened.
Though I’ve lived in three different states since leaving my hometown of St. Louis, I’ve always been just four hours away.
Basically, my life has been a parallelogram:
Twice, I was on the brink of leaving.
The first time was toward the end of my college years in Indiana, when I made plans to attend grad school in San Diego. I got accepted to my dream program and spent months fantasizing about my new life on the coast… until I visited the school and realized it wasn’t my dream at all. Weeks later, I begrudgingly accepted an offer in Illinois.
The second time was toward the end of my grad school years, when Doug had applied to schools across the country and accepted an offer in Colorado. We were ready to pack up and head for the mountains! Until the day of my graduation… when he got a very late acceptance to Iowa: an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Perhaps parallel versions of myself are playing out my alternate choices in parallel universes and turning down their pitying noses at the seemingly-permanent Midwestern yokel I have become.
But in this reality, I have chosen to embrace it.
Here are some cool things about my slice of the Midwest: The rent is cheap, the parking easy, and the traffic minimal. I can get from the airport parking lot to my seat on the plane in under ten minutes!
The only thing that truly bothers me about Midwest life, honestly, is the winters.
But I’m learning to remind myself that even winter brings its own set of gifts. As an avid reader/writer/introvert, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a legitimate, built-in excuse to not leave the house for several months. Plus, the emergence of spring is so powerful that its physical and metaphorical beauty still rocks me to my core, even after all these years.
And whenever anyone says there isn’t anything to do in the Midwest, I just roll my eyes. What’s up with people who say that, anyway? Are they really so externally stimulated all the time that they’ve forgotten the infinite variety of ways the creative, human mind can sustain itself in any environment? I’ve never run out of things to do.
What would I actually be doing differently if I lived elsewhere? Going to Broadway shows and museums all the time? Dining at classy restaurants and paying a hundred dollars for a tiny, expertly-stacked array of mystery vegetables?
Maybe. Maybe I’d be brimming with so much culture and class that it would blow all of our minds.
More likely, I suspect I would be doing basically what I do now: reading, hanging out at Panera, and rubbing my cats’ adorable cheeks while Doug cradles them in his arms like human infants.
Oh, and here’s a secret I’ve learned over the years: there are huge advantages to living only four hours from where you grew up.
I have driven back for countless weddings and bridal/baby showers, and I’ve gone back every weekend Bevin has been in town over the past decade. I never have to choose between spending Thanksgiving or Christmas with my parents: I will be there for both, thank you very much, eating up all the home-cooked food you can throw at my face.
The idea of moving far away used to sound like an exciting, inevitable adventure. Now it just makes my heart feel tight.
Here’s a fun fact: Doug finished school a year ago. We have no good reason to be here or anywhere anymore; we are free birds.
“We should talk about where we want to live,” one of us will occasionally say to the other, taking our turn in our delicate dance of talking only about the act of talking about it.
“Yeah,” the other will agree. “Let’s discuss it next time we go to Red Lobster.”
But then we don’t. I mean, don’t misunderstand me: we go to Red Lobster. We go there like nobody’s business. We just don’t discuss it. I order my catch-of-the-day and Doug orders his Admiral’s Feast and we end up talking about the creative process, or sexism in America, or the inherent sadness of childhood.
And then we stop at Barnes & Noble. And then we go home, where we rub our cats’ adorable little faces until they won’t let us anymore. If it’s warm out, we might go for a walk. If not, I read a book while Doug plays music. And it won’t even occur to either of us until days later that we forgot to start hatching a plan out of this place.