In the spirit of self-reflection and my ever-growing need to write more, I’ve decided to do a little mini series on turning 30. Because yes, I’m turning 30 next month and please excuse me while I go cry into a bowl of anti-aging face cream.
I think most people change A LOT in their 20s. It’s a vulnerable time, I’d argue even more vulnerable than high school, and the decisions you make in your 20s have the capacity to affect the rest of your life in unchangeable ways. Personally, I’ve changed quite a bit and learned quite a bit more during the past decade. And it all started with moving to Nashville…
I lay on the living room floor in a makeshift bed, trying and failing to ignore my dad’s snores drifting down the stairs from where he slept on the second floor. It was 4:00 a.m. on a mid-July morning and we were waking up in two hours to leave my hometown, the only place I’d ever known. I’d spent the past day and night soaking up time with my closest friends, not truly believing I was leaving, that I’d actually made the choice to leave. But I had. And I was.
At 6:00 a.m. the alarm clock cried out in that obnoxious way old school alarm clocks do, before the rise of iPhones, and I hadn’t slept a wink. Dad woke up, too, and silently we began to pack the last few straggler items into the U-Haul. We’d been unable to secure a trailer to tow my car, which meant for the next nine hours Dad would be driving the U-Haul, and I’d be following behind him. I kept telling myself I was the one who’d chosen to leave, that no one was making me do this.
Leaving the apartment Tracy and I had shared was an unceremonious affair. It was empty, a shell, devoid of the memories of friends, heartache, parties, and laughter it used to hold. I walked through one last time to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind, and then we drove away. Just like that.
Driving the 9 hours from Jacksonville to Nashville was old hat for me, I’d been doing it at least once a year with my parents for most of my life, but something about this drive on this day made everything stand out in sharp focus. With each passing minute, the realization that I was driving further away from the life I knew and into one I didn’t became harder and harder to ignore. I listened to angry music as loud as my ears could stand it, I cried, I called friends back home to pass the time. We stopped at a Wal-Mart so I could buy a car charger for my phone, so I could keep calling, keep up that lifeline I was so desperate to not let go of.
We got stuck in unmoving traffic in Chattanooga, forcing drivers to turn off A/Cs for fear of cars overheating in the thick July air, and at that moment I felt as if I were being punished. I could no longer remember the reasons I was doing this. I missed my parents, I knew that. I’d graduated from college two months earlier with no real purpose, no desire to keep working the job I had. I’d lost interest in various aspects of my life. I knew I needed a change, but was overcome with regret the second I’d committed to one.
When we finally arrived, many of my extended family were at my parents’ house, eagerly waiting to welcome me with open arms. I’ll never forget the rush of gratitude I felt in those moments, hugging my mom and cousins and aunts and uncles, feeling scared and so sad and so out of place, yet so very loved. Everyone helped unload the U-Haul, and as my uncle was leaving later that day, he looked me in the eyes and said, “This is your home now, Em.” Internally, I recoiled – my heart was still in Jacksonville, and would remain there for quite some time. But I’ve never forgotten those words, and what they’ve come to mean. Home doesn’t have to be where you grew up, or where you were born. Home is wherever you feel loved.
That was 8 years ago, and I remain forever changed because of that decision I made so long ago to move away from everything I’d ever known, a decision that turned out to be the best one I’d ever made, a decision that’s blessed me with friends and family and relationships I never would’ve known. As I approach this new decade of life as someone who is a very different person from that scared 21-year-old, I’m reminded that moving to Nashville was the catalyst for the change I so desperately needed. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today, with 30 looming on the horizon, living in Utah with my husband/best friend who gets me and a fantastic job and more outdoor hobbies than I need, if I hadn’t left Jacksonville. I don’t know who I’d be if I had stayed – but I’m glad I got the opportunity to never find out. 🙂