This Christmas, I flew home to my family in Michigan, and then I flew back home to Washington where I currently live and work. “Home” is such a general term, used shallowly at times and other times holding a depth and weight as heavy as “love.”
When I was in second grade, we moved from Indiana to Michigan. Kyra, my best friend, waved until she was a purple speck behind us, as my tears formed icicles on the glass.
It wasn’t until high school that I realized that I’d lived in Michigan for most of my life. I was split between the trucker mentality of “Home is where my head lays” and my heart which said, “Home is where Kyra is.”
Despite our efforts, Kyra and I couldn’t find a college together and acquiesced to stay long-distance. I applied to colleges across the country, swearing that I would finally escape Michigan. But the moment I stepped onto Calvin’s campus, I felt a strong connection and accepted four more years of snow.
Geography plunged me into concepts of home and place, challenging my sorrows. Slowly, Michigan began to mean more than H.O.M.E.S.—Huron… Ontario… Michigan… Erie… Superior…. I started to understand why I was heartbroken when they took down the “Great Lakes, Great Times” sign at the border. Still, it wasn’t enough to hold me there.
Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the Appalachian Mountains, and by my fourth year, I was itching to get out of Michigan.
The night of graduation, we drove fifteen hours into the wilderness of upstate New York. My mom cried as she drove away, and I stepped into a cabin that smelled like skunk and stale beer. My dream job wasn’t as I expected, but I made it through the season. Every night, I dreamt of my family. In the drone of pulling vegetation or sledging rocks, my thoughts hummed to the tune of Michigan summers, of beaches and craft fairs and camping and euchre. The cry of a loon on Heart Lake echoed somewhere in the reeds of Lake Michigan.
After the summer, I scrambled for a job anywhere—just a job that would keep me from moving back into my parents’ house. I accepted a position in the state of Washington and stopped in Michigan to trade my trail rags for office attire and satiate my thirst with the last drops of Michigan summer.
A few nights before I got on the plane to Washington, my mind tossed in turmoil. I was flying into the abyss. I had no housing prepared. I didn’t know anyone. I’d never been to the Pacific Northwest besides in the journals of John Muir. Were the mountains still calling me? But if I stayed in Michigan… my tears burned even hotter. If I stayed, I couldn’t guarantee protection from my greatest fear. At least in Washington, I could look out at the mountains, and my restless soul could be comforted.
Now in Vancouver, Washington, I see Grand Rapids reflected in the Columbia River. I like that it’s not as cold as Michigan and there are mountains on every horizon. But I don’t plan to stay here after my job ends in eight months. I’m not sure where I’ll go next. The saying is, “Go big or go home.” And going back to Michigan feels a bit like giving up after all my big talk of traveling. Everyone always says, “Travel when you’re young.” Especially in American culture, there’s a mindset of independence. There’s criticism of middle-aged kids living with their parents unless they’re taking care of a sick or elderly relative.
Most people say that I shouldn’t let anything hold me back from doing great things. But I don’t have much desire to do great things. What are great things without the small things? A place for my kitchen table so I can host friends and family; dirt to grow my own herbs; a cat; and most of all, a warm bed to share with someone who will never leave my side. Returning to Michigan doesn’t guarantee those dreams, but it’s unlikely that I would find them as I’m living now—running away from connections and commitment. I’m the type of person who devotes myself wholeheartedly, so if I’m going to commit to someone or something, I want it to be real. I want it to last.
My mom used to tell me, “People come and go in your life, but they leave footprints on your heart.” She meant it as comfort, but all I feel is the pain of a trampled heart. Yet, I know that if I keep moving, never letting a place or a person take hold of me, I’ll just keep shutting my heart up.