Last night, I had the honor of sharing this story with a group of lovely folks at the InsideOut Gallery as part of Here:Say Traverse City Storytelling. Unfortunately, the recording didn’t go as planned for my piece, but those of you who missed the performance are still welcome to read here.
During my junior year at the University of Michigan, my mother moved out of the home I had left behind when I moved to Ann Arbor. She downsized considerably since both my brother and I were away at school and my sisters were nearing the end of their high school careers. She anticipated, as she well should have, that she would never have to house all four of us at the same time again.
While helping her move in, I got upset and, in my selfish diva streak, yelled at my mother for not providing me with any space. “What if I want to visit for a weekend?” I exclaimed. “What if I need to have an Up North getaway? Why didn’t you plan for me?”
We hadn’t been speaking much prior to this argument, and I left soon afterwards in a huff, jetsetting to Ireland for a summer semester abroad.
In March of my senior year, I was accepted in to New York University’s Silver School of Social Work on a half scholarship. I decided to stay in Ann Arbor for the summer after graduation and move to New York City in August. Three weeks before graduation in late April, I had a wisdom tooth erupt. Quickly and quietly, I got an internship in Traverse City, sublet my Ann Arbor apartment, and celebrated for what would likely be my last northern Michigan summer ever. I was excited to move home because it was temporary—after four short months, I would be in the city, in grad school, and making my own way again.
From my mother, my gift for graduating from college was wisdom tooth removal surgery and a living space for my rogue, moneyless summer. Looking back now, I cannot begin to describe how generous my mother and siblings were with me. In those first few weeks home, I did little more than complain, cry, whine, and lie about the house recovering from surgery, dry sockets, and Vicodin withdrawal. I continued to complain and whine after moving my things into my sister’s room so that my brother could sleep on the couch. I, in turn, slept on a futon under my sister’s lofted bed and kept my ever-expanding wardrobe in the unfinished basement.
The five of us lived on top of one another that summer and, when I decided to stay in Traverse City and forgo my grad school plans in order to pursue a career in communications, my mother sighed. I had been an utter brat from day one, arguing, taking up space, barging in from the bar at all hours, and basically refusing to change my habits from those I had created when I lived alone and away. I woke my mother up on more than one drunken stumble into the house after Wednesday pint night and, when she asked me to be more mindful, I couldn’t bring myself to do so.
We argued and argued and argued, my mother and I. As summer became fall and the house became more miserable, I finally realized that I needed to actually pursue a career in communications so I could move out of the house and away from my family again. I got two jobs after my internship, as is par for the course as a twenty-something in Traverse City, and set off looking for an apartment. The search proved dismal, as is par for the course as a twenty-something in Traverse City, but I finally found a basement for rent that I moved in to almost immediately.
With that, things with my family seemed to get better as my living situation got a bit worse. I was speaking to my mother and sisters again, but my roommate and I also felt the need to get in to all sorts of mischief. I rarely got enough sleep and barely had enough money to cover the rent after my exorbitant bills from The Loading Dock. I felt the pull towards adulthood but wanted to stay firmly rooted in transitory land, somehow convincing myself that I would still, one day, move to New York City.
I don’t know when the switch got flipped. It may have been when I started practicing yoga regularly or when I started eating properly or when I came home one night to find my roommate passed out with a pot of broccoli still boiling on the stove. But, somewhere in my twenty-third year, I felt the urge to stay and settle. Out of nowhere, I awoke to this perfect, beautiful little town and realized that it could be anything I wanted it to be and, within it, I could be the change I wished to see in the world… just like I’ve had tattooed on my arm for years.
Moving home after college and committing to staying forever is not a choice that many of my friends from high school have made. I came home and spent time with people who had never left this little town and who yearned for more, bigger, better, everything. And while I haven’t seen everything, it took going away for a brief interval of my life to realize what was right in front of me all along—a comfortable all-seasons haven, a mecca for foodies, travelers, and outdoorsmen alike, and a real honest and true home. I tell people now that I had thought about moving, about grad school, about exploring, but that I have plenty of friends to visit all over the world and can only come home to one Traverse City.
It seems that others have found out my secret, too. Every day I meet someone my age who has moved here for work, or for play, or for more. This town truly can be anything we want it to be, and ‘we’ are slowly becoming younger. We have a fresh take on things, a new set of eyes with which to examine this town, and an increasing passion for everything that Traverse City is becoming. Although I was one of the first young twenty-somethings to land back here after college, I’m not the last and I’m certainly not the least.
In my two-and-a-half years home, I’ve created all that I’ve attained. I’ve allowed for transitions to be status quo and I’ve agreed within myself to always say ‘yes’ to a proposal, project, or idea. I’m familiar with what has been and have been acclimated to how things work. I’ve become acquainted with what’s here and I’ve adapted to see through new lenses. But I stand before you today telling this story because, while I am quite used to living here, I’m not done changing, learning, or doing yet. And I know that, because of the choices I’ve made, I’ve become me. I’m so settled in to constantly re-creating my life here that I know I don’t belong, or want to be, anywhere else.