January 22, 2013 – Purple Mountains Majesty
I cried when I drove away from Colorado nineteen months ago not knowing if I’d ever come back. My friend Jill, who’d I’d stayed with while finishing out my two week job notice, got up early to see me off and we hugged goodbye, both surprised to find ourselves getting misty eyed and fatalistic—“God only knows when we’ll see each other again”—at least in our thoughts. My 4Runner was packed to the gills with the things I was going to give away to family or store at my parents’ house, and I could barely watch the mountains fade into tiny hills through my side view mirrors. I was leaving ten years of life behind me. The place that I had truly called home, where I felt I belonged, was no longer a haven. I was, in a sense, fleeing. Breaking away from my comfort zone (in which I was going insane) and heading out for adventure. I had this dream about living my life to the fullest and so the tears caught me off guard. I hadn’t realized I was such a girl.
No, I hadn’t realized the love I had for this place, for the friends I’d made, for the life I had lived.
I didn’t make any promises to the distance-diminishing mountains. I didn’t know if I could honor them. I just drove away and learned to put that homesickness away from me. To store it in a cold place in the cellar of my heart.
And I wandered; homeless, rootless, carefree. Unconsciously judging each place I encountered against the bar I’d set with Colorado. Could I be at home here? Could I love this place? Is this love at first sight? Along the way I found little corners of comfort. The Sacred Valley of Peru. The desert of Nasca. My cabin on the DALIAN. The sky of Sweden. Croatia’s friendly welcome (and perfect coffee). The artsy corner of Bilboa. My friend’s house in Oregon. And one after the other I left them all behind me, loving some more and some less, moving on and onward, not ready to stop my roaming.
Colorado hadn’t fit in my itinerary although cursory thoughts of the mountains had hit me from time to time (hit me hard with longing, sucker punched me with homesickness). I couldn’t see how to afford a trip and I couldn’t justify the extravagance now that the time had come to tighten my belt and be frugal again. That is, until Jill put the thought into my head.
We’d seen each other in California in October (a trip I’d made fit in my itinerary, a trip planned while I was in Italy, still in a place where I believed I’d never come to a halt and I could make my nomadic lifestyle last forever). I’d gone specifically, taking the Starlight Express train from Eugene to Oakland, to see Jill and our mutual friends who live in California.
It was a good visit and easy to be with them, comfortable.
“It’s like you never left, Leuke,” Jill tells me, using the nickname she’d given me while we’d studied Anatomy together for her massage therapy classes (Leuke means white (or white blood). My last name is White. Ergo). It does feel that way, like we’d seen each other the week before, like the time--and all the distance--between us is irrelevant. That’s what being friends is.
After we’ve both gone home, me to Oregon and Jill to Colorado, she calls me up and suggests I visit for Thanksgiving. “I could help a little bit with the ticket,” she tells me. But the tickets are too much. Even Greyhound, all the airlines, and the trains. We put our disappointment to the side and carry on with our lives. Thanksgiving comes and goes. Then one day I have an idea.
“What if I come to Colorado before I head to Texas for the holidays?” I ask her. It makes sense to me; multi destination travel, rather than roundtrip circles, moving forward in a logical geographical pattern from the northwest to the west to the south.
“You’re always welcome here,” she tells me. “Let me know what you decide.”
I decide to go. Soon enough, I step off the plane at the Colorado Springs airport. I’ve flown out of and into a lot of airports, and this one is the friendliest airport I’ve ever been in. It’s cozy, small, unfrantic. Something inside me relaxes, sighs out a long held in breath, rejoices. I collect my bag and head outside. The sun is out, the air is crisp, and the sharp altitude is refreshing like a cold drink. The mountains range off to the west where they belong. The sky streaks with color, orange, pink, hazed out blue, as the sun lowers itself behind the curtain of the mountains. I check the time. It’d already be dark in Springfield, it’d be the eternal eight o’clock that heads straight into midnight. I catch a shuttering breath; I’ve come to daytime. I’ve come to sunshine. I’ve come to light.
“Oh,” I exclaim (probably out loud), “Colorado, I’ve missed you so much.”
I blink away the water that seeps up into my eyes. I belong here. This is home. Sure, I remember why I left and I’m glad I did. But I hope that one day I’ll find my way back to this place and on terms that I can be happy with. When will that be? I have no clue. There’s still a whole lot of world left to explore. Even with that thought seeping out of me, there’s no recrimination in the air, no anger for being left, no jealousy for my fickleness. I can come back any time. I’m welcome here.