I’ve been told it’s a trait unique to our generation, but I’ve been told that about a lot of things and I’m just not buying it anymore. Both of my parents and all of their parents ended up moving as adults well outside of the mythical twenty-mile radius of their birthplace, so I am not particularly surprised that I have, too. The thing that was unexpected was that I didn’t end up here as a carefree leaf on the wind, following the warm climes until I settled where I was most comfortable: I was the comically undersized Thumbelina holding tight to that leaf on the wind, and the leaf’s comfort wouldn’t necessarily be my own.

The leaf is my husband. The warm climes are the engineering jobs. Where he is most comfortable is northern Texas. Thumbelina sweats a lot down here.

I’ve been getting into jobs where I’m told “no one does this for the money” for my entire adult life and even beforehand, so I’ve always known I would chase my husband’s job market and try to be geographically flexible. This led me first to Pennsylvania, and I loved it. Sure it was difficult, but I eventually fit in cozily with the New England atmosphere mixed with Midwestern sensibilities. I probably would have been happy to spend the rest of my life there, where the hills kill your gas mileage and they have annual festivals dedicated to the grandeur of the deep-fried pickle. 

I’m still convinced there’s nothing quite like October in Pittsburgh. You break through any of the hills there, either by going up or going out, and you’ll be surrounded on all sides by the most beautiful valley of color. Fog settles over you in the night and makes the whole city feel like an island in the sky. You walk down any street for long enough and you’ll come to one enormous cemetery or another and feel the strong spook of hundred-year-old graves and ivy-covered mausoleums. Leaves and twigs will crunch under your boots, dogs with sweaters will sniff at you as they pass, and children wearing gloves and hats will skip down the sidewalk. I swear there’s no more human place than Pittsburgh in October.

But my leaf isn’t in Pittsburgh in October anymore. October in Dallas is a patchwork of ninety-degree days and forty-degree nights. So far as I have seen, most of the trees down here don’t lose their leaves, and those that do are too spread out to notice. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is a laughingstock, and only desperate ex-Northerners would accept its Texas cousin, the Pumpkin Spice Smoothie.

I may not have noticed just how achingly different October is down here, except that I spent the past two weekends travelling through both time and space to Octobers past in locales previous. October in Michigan, which I experienced that first weekend, is chilly, perfect soup weather, and a beautiful time to spend at a cabin in the woods with old friends. October in New England, which was last weekend, is bracing and colorful, and the oldness of everything feels satisfyingly eerie.

When our Great Migration was only a vision on the horizon, I think I resented it a little. I didn’t like that I had such little control over where we would end up: I couldn’t just will us closer to family or to some interesting town in the west unless I could convince silicon fabs to move there too. When our compass pointed us to Texas, I was a little relieved it wasn’t California, but I think I still resented it, and more now because it was Texas, of all places.

So when I spent two October weekends in the North, I expected to resent the return flights depositing me back in this land I came to only grudgingly. When I landed in Fort Worth in a humid eighty-seven degrees at 9:00 at night, I expected to be at least as angry at Texas as I had been when I’d come in the first place.

One of the things about moving around a lot is that people start to ask you, “Does it feel like home?” And the funny thing about that question is that you don’t know the answer, and you don’t know you don’t know the answer, until all of a sudden you do. When I walked down that stuffy tunnel to the gate at the airport and my jeans immediately stuck to my calves in what may be the worst way anything can, I wasn’t thinking about how my favorite October was happening anywhere but here. I wasn’t thinking about the soup I didn’t want to eat or the fun spooks I wasn’t experiencing. I wasn’t thinking about missing leaves falling poignantly from trees and or their reminder of mortality in that always feels so poignant and important. 

I was thinking, “It’s so good to be home.”

2 Comments

  1. Kyric Koning

    I really like how you tie the leaf imagery throughout the piece with the idea of moving from place to place.

    Reply
  2. Courtney Zonnefeld

    Especially as someone who has also lived in multiple states, I love how you capture the complicated reality of multiple “homes.” A part of me settles around palm trees and eucalyptus, but deciduous trees and fall colors are home. Thanks for your writing, and for noticing all the weather, wildlife, and vegetation that make a place home.

    Reply

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