Sitting down in seat 15 E on a Boeing seven hundred-something, tears rushed to overfill my eyes. I plunged my face into Carl’s chest, feeling a taste of relief and comfort as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I spluttered. But I do know. I cried today because this is my last flight into Tucson as an Arizona resident, at least for the next three years. As excited as I am for the years to come, I am equally saddened by what they mean. From where I’m standing, three years—and maybe then some—seems like a long time to be away from home.
I don’t remember the last time I wrote a blog post. I could go into all the details of what has changed and what has happened between now and then, but most of it seems irrelevant. I’d rather spend time on where I am now and where I’m going.
So, where am I? Physically, I am still in seat 15 E flying from St. Louis to San Diego, then on to Tucson. But beyond this uncomfortable navy blue airplane chair, I am waist-deep in transition. As of the end of May, my only income is derived from subbing yoga classes. The government has agreed (rather quickly and easily, I might add) to loan me more than $100,000 over the course of three years so that I can become a physical therapist. When we return to our little house in Tucson, I will begin sorting through my belongings, packing boxes, and attending a series of “going-way” events. I’ve been doing a lot of goodbye-ing lately. Although each of those farewells is given under the assumption that it is not goodbye forever, I can’t shake the feeling that it could be. It could be a very long time before I touch down in the desert and call it my place of residence again. Luckily, just because you don’t physically live somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t call it home.
I never thought I would leave Arizona for the Midwest. Sure— I thought I would leave, but not for Missouri! As I discovered this week during our visit-campus-and-find-an-apartment trip to St. Louis, it turns out that driving for 21 hours in the middle of summer to start a new life there isn’t a bad idea after all. In fact, I left feeling truly satisfied with my decision. St. Louis seems like the kind of place we can be happy. Most places are. But I know I will miss Arizona and everything it means to me. The mountains, painted in hues of purple across the horizon. The sky at sunset, ablaze with pinks and yellows and oranges. The cacti, erupting with splashes of color in the spring, as if someone dropped hundreds of paint balls across the desert floor. The monsoons, cascading down from sky to gutters to puddles in thick, impenetrable curtains.
The smell of wet creosote. That is, the smell of rain.
I remember the first time it rained in Paris during my year there. I was confused! “It’s raining?” I asked myself. “But it smells like…like old cigarettes and decaying leaves. This isn’t what rain smells like!” As I get ready to move to the great state of Missouri, one of my recurring concerns is the fact that when it rains, it won’t smell like rain.
A small thing to worry about, I suppose. I don’t worry about finding community or making friends or being happy. I’ve learned that if you want those things, you can make them happen anywhere. I am not afraid to start over. In fact, I’m relishing the idea of being anonymous, of leaving behind this familiar place that is haunted by so many ghosts and what-ifs. No more somersaults in my belly as I unexpectedly run into a person I once loved. No more anxiety bubbling to the top when I see a familiar silhouette in the distance, holding my breath, thinking, “Shit—could that be…” It’s a unique opportunity to be able to start out with an untouched canvas, to be able to choose the paint and shapes and strokes anew, to be able to decide what a place means to me as a more confident, more complete version of myself. It’s a privilege that I appreciate more deeply with every passing day.
So where am I going, then? I’m going to St. Louis, MO to attend Washington University’s three-year doctor of physical therapy program. But I’m also going on a daunting adventure. And more importantly, I’m going down a path to personal fulfillment, chasing after that thing that fills my cup and brings meaning to my life. That’s what I’ve learned about living so far: you can’t wait for something better more fulfilling more exciting more challenging more meaningful to come along of its own volition and find you. You have to go get it.
A winding path in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO