We moved back to Oklahoma last month. There was no dramatic impetus. We were just sitting on our sofa one night and JD looked up at me and said, “Why don’t we move back to Oklahoma?”
I’ve always derived a great deal of self-worth from the fact that I left home. For a lot of valid but equally vapid, ego-filled reasons, it felt important to me. In some ways, I think I needed to put as many states between myself and the religion that raised me as possible.
In other ways, I wanted to escape the illusion that I’d never really amount to much. I never did very well in school, I didn’t really know what I wanted from a career, and when I graduated from college, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wasn’t the Bible studied missionary I’d found my identity in for so long.
But during my last full year of school, a blue-eyed townie walked through the door of the local coffee shop where I worked. He sprawled for hours at the bar, ordered lots of coffees, and tipped terribly. I fell in love with him, and he loved and respected me in a way I’d never known. More than that, he believed I could do a lot with my life.
We got married a year later, and, at 23 and 26, we left home together. We spent the next decade moving from Cairo to DC to Denver to Oakland. Somewhere in there, we had a little blue-eyed boy of our own, and a year-and-a-half ago, we landed in Santa Cruz — a small surf town about an hour from the over-egoed Bay Area.
It filled up our cups. It let us rest. It taught us to surf and to slow down. It showed us a whole sandy-footed life we never dreamed of for our family, and in February of this year we bought a little home we thought was forever.
Two weeks later, we went into quarantine with everyone else.
Our lives changed in many ways, sure. But in a lot of ways, they didn’t. When you move around a lot, your roots stay pretty shallow. We found it hard to forge meaningful relationships when we were only in a place for a year or two.
What did change was that all of the sudden, we couldn’t travel to see the people we loved most. Like much of the internet, we tried to fill those voids with more Zoom calls. But it only highlighted what we were missing.
We could walk to the end of our street and stick our toes in the ocean, but we still walked right back home again missing the family and friends who loved us best.
That and I’d lived with a decades-long nagging to go home, to put all that therapy, self-worth, and hard work to test. To free myself from the idea that going back meant I’d have to pick up all of my old stories — and the stories others told me about myself— again. To break that cycle for myself and to make sure it stayed broken for Jude.
For us, quarantine stripped away everything that had been important to us. Left behind were two families in Oklahoma who love us unconditionally.
When this year and this pandemic is over, we’re hoping that what fills our schedules up is a whole lot of the mundane. Nephew baseball games, random swing-bys on a Tuesday night, weekends visiting parents at the lake or on the farm. To give support to our family members when they need it and to receive that support when we need it. To be here.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched Jude discover thunderstorms and splash around in red-dirt puddles. I’ve been able to drive up and spend the afternoon with my parents and still be home in time to tuck Jude in for bed.
Most of us rebel against our childhood at one point or another, but I needed to accept that it’s OK to go home if you need it. There’s something cathartic about carving out your own life in the place that formed you.
To take all you’ve learned and put it to work. And to let the rest go.