I went back to California for a wedding a week and a half ago, flying the length of the U.S. and landing in my previous hometown in Northern CA.
It was rainy and grey--my favorite weather--and the trees were the deep, dark green that signals winter's approach. I conked out on my friend's ultra-fluffy couch, which was super exciting because, seriously, when was the last time you slept on a couch? I saw old friends and got the warmest greetings of all from old mentors when I visited my old, sunlit church.
I walked the downtown streets that used to be my evening-walk fodder, staring at ivy-covered brick and meandering green alleyways. I went by my last apartment. I wandered around my alma mater with a friend and got to peek inside the quiet, airy library that was my mainstay during college. It brought memories surging back, and this odd sense that I was home but that I simultaneously wasn't.
Then I flew back home, to this place that feels both more and less like home than Cali did. I've moved so much that no building really feels like a permanent place to rest my heart, and I've claimed three towns now as my "hometown," all hundreds of miles apart. Which one is the real home? The answer is: all of them.
You who've been around here before know that I don't like Virginia. California was a breath of fresh air, with drivers that obeyed the rules of the road and didn't make me feel that at any moment I might be in a life-threatening collision of inattention and stupidity. The salads were fresh and crunchy. You have to pay if you don't bring your own bags to the supermarket, and the recycling is picked up every week.
Virginia is unsafe, unfresh, unenvironmental, and so many other things I could name, like bigoted and sexist and overly concerned with appearances especially in church. But Virginia still has things California doesn't.
First of all, they have trees. While I bewail the wanton destruction of forested areas for new shopping malls, I often forget to be thankful that Virginia has these woodlands at all. I live for the green that surrounds me here. Walking under tree-lined paths or through the rich wetlands fills my spirit with songs, words, and glory that I can't express. The woodedness has fed my soul since moving here.
They're changing colors now, the trees. That's something else Virginia has: seasons. I moved to NorCal because, compared to my native San Diego, there was weather! They got several inches of rain in the winter, and 100-degree summers. Now I get several inches of snow and several feet of rain. We get grey days galore, and while I'm really getting tired of hot summers, the humidity of the East Coast makes my skin happy.
Right now, as we speed through autumn, the trees are a gorgeous bouquet of red, orange, gold, and evergreen. That's something you don't see so much in California. The sunsets at our beach residence have been blue, gold, pink, and purple--absolutely dazzling. Last year we got tornadoes and we've had a few tropical storms. I will miss all this when we inevitably move on.
Last of all, the thing Virginia has over any other place is that it's my home right now. I live here. My office is here, my dear friends are here, and my favorite cafe and friendly baristas are here.
I had those things in Cali, too. I had an office-corner-niche thing in our bedroom, right in front of a window. I had dear friends and I had a different favorite cafe for all my writing #cafedays (regular order: chai tea and croissant).
But that's not where I am anymore.
Where I am now is southern Virginia. It's my home purely and simply because I live here. It's not a good reason to like the place, but I think that's the truth about hometowns: you love them and hate them at the same time. I hated San Diego for all its flaws--overly tanned and falsely-perfected bodies, a confluence of large gas-guzzling vehicles, and an emphasis on material gain.
I disliked the flaws in my NorCal town, too: small-mindedness wrapped up in unassailable intellectualism, an overabundance of young people, and difficulty finding true spirituality among the philosophical minds of my college town.
C.S. Lewis says that true patriotism means loving your country enough to see what's wrong with it, enough to work to change it. Maybe that's what having a hometown means, too.
When I leave Virginia, I don't know if the trees and the weather will be enough to keep it on the list of my past hometowns. Intellectually and spiritually, Virginia has been a crucible for me. I don't like who I've become here: someone who is constantly angry. I'm afraid of my anger, afraid of losing my ability to give people grace. But the anger has done good things, showing me areas in my life where I wasn't being honest with people. The anger boiled over and I've become truer to myself these days, something that has made me so much joy and freedom. (Now I have to figure out how to do that and still be nice to people.)
Hello, Virginia. Hello, red trees, stormy sky, and little bungalow on the beach. Hello, perfect corner office where all my writing-magic happens. Hello. I'm home.
Word count: 923.