I’ve always had an odd relationship with the first place I called home. For one, I never actually considered it home.
I grew up in Worcester, an old industrial city in central Massachusetts that my parents moved to shortly before I was born because my dad had been offered a job there. Before that my parents had lived in Texas, and before that they had lived in Germany, where they first met. My dad grew up in Kentucky and my mom in Norway, and the only reason we were all in Worcester was that job at the College of the Holy Cross.
And I think that always affected me in a way. While my friends told stories about their grandparents moving to Worcester from Italy or Ireland to find a better life, I knew the only reason I was there was that academic jobs were much easier to come by in the United States. Otherwise my parents would have wanted to stay in southern Germany.
And I knew their hearts were still in Europe because that’s where we would spend all our vacations. In a perfect world that’s where we would have spent all our time, so when I would dream about my perfect future I would always cross my fingers and toes that I would somehow find a way to leave the US.
In fact I basically spent all of my childhood daydreaming about my future travels. Looking back, I can see that I was so preoccupied with planning my great escape that I never took the time to look around me and realize that my home was actually quite wonderful as well.
I mean, how could I ignore all the crazy beautiful landscapes in the US?
Actually I’ve already written an entire blog post about my bizarre blindness to the beauty of the United States.
It’s funny, because my best friend in high school was totally the opposite. Anna loved Worcester, and as often as I would talk about leaving she would talk about all the things she wanted to do when she grew up to make Worcester a better place. Worcester was her home.
Anna and I met freshman year of high school, and while she isn’t my oldest friend, she is the friend I’ve remained closest to for the longest. I mean, of course we’ve gone through periods where we haven’t been as good at keeping in touch with each other – that US/Japan time difference was pretty inconvenient – but we’ve always found our way back to each other. Like now I would say we Skype on average about… three times a week?
Just writing that I’m getting a flashback to my dad yelling at me to get off the phone, haha. We were always tying up the phone line in high school, something I guess kids these days don’t have to worry about.
What’s crazy though is that while on paper our lives have taken very different paths, somehow it always feels like we’re experiencing the same exact things. It makes me wonder if my life decisions don’t actually affect me that much, and that regardless of what I’m doing, I’m always going to feel the way I do just because of how I grew up and how old I am. Or because of my connection to Anna?
Sometimes I’ll message Anna complaining about how I suddenly feel super anxious for no apparent reason and she’ll just be like, oh me too, I have a really important interview tomorrow.
I don’t actually believe in souls being connected like that – I mean, it’s not like we’re identical twins or anything – but I do take talking to Anna as a reminder that the human experience is much more universal than I realize while caught up in my own personal dramas.
It’s a lesson I love to highlight on my travels – discovering again and again that yes! People really are the same around the world. And yes, we should stop being scared of each other and start enjoying some long overdue world peace.
And yet I think this is something I fail to internalize in my life at home. I’m always dreaming of far off places, as if my life and experiences there would be brighter and more exciting simply because they’re happening somewhere else.
I do think it is important to actually experience other countries, if we can. It can be dangerous to get too stuck in a comfortable bubble, fearing everything and anyone outside of it. But like, I also want to be able to appreciate my cosy bubble without constantly feeling the need to burst through it, you know?
The reason I’m thinking about this now isn’t that I’m ready to leave my home in Norway. In fact it’s the opposite – I love Norway so much.
Sometimes, oh my goodness especially when I’m hiking in the mountains, I’ll nearly pass out from taking such deep breaths, trying to soak in all this beauty as if one day it might be taken from me. It’s like I’m so scared that I’m going to fall out of love with Norway that I don’t let myself enjoy being in love. Does that make any sense? I mean, it doesn’t.
I’ve always prided myself on how I’ve chased my dreams, even when the path I take to do so hasn’t always made sense to others. I declined admission to master’s programs two years in a row, instead backpacking across Asia on $5 a day, and then I took a job at a supermarket in Telemark – something my Norwegian grandmother never actually forgave me for, she was so ashamed.
I’ve never settled. But what happens when I do want to settle?
I do feel quite settled in Mosjøen. I love my home and life here and I still get butterflies whenever I think about how I actually live in Helgeland now. Just the thought is still so exciting.
But there’s also a lingering doubt, and lately I’ve been thinking that it could be time to address it.
Anna left Worcester last year.
Again our lives mirrored each other in the most unexpected way. After a restless 30 years I was ready to stop running from the “ordinary life,” while Anna realized that the things society assured her would make her happy, well, weren’t really making her happy.
She sold her house, divorced her husband and moved across the country.
She’s spent this past year in Denver, continuing her social work career in a new home. Sometimes when she talks about getting to know the system in Colorado, how the local gangs work, social issues, etc., I think about how she’s been so good at integrating in her new home because of how well she got to know Worcester.
I never did. And while I finally do have a place I really would love to call home, I do worry that I won’t be able to forever – that I don’t quite know how.
Meanwhile Anna already shows the same loyalty to Colorado that she felt to Massachusetts, but she’s wondering if that’s a mistake, if she has committed too quickly, because that’s what she’s good at.
Have you guessed where this is going? Or rather, where we’re going?
Anna and I are going on a 5-week American road trip!
You know how people say you can’t love someone else before you love yourself? Well I guess when it comes to homes I still need to love myself first, whereas Anna needs someone to love. You know, metaphorically speaking.
I have a home I want to love, but I think before I can truly do that I need to finally find a way to appreciate my first home, the United States.
And I can’t think of anyone better to help me do that than Anna.
And who better to help Anna on her journey to find the right home than her travel blogger bff?
Lol I think us traveling together will be interesting. Anna has never done a big trip like this, whereas travel is basically my life. But I haven’t spent more than ten days in the US since finishing university.
Which reminds me – the last time Anna and I spent more than a day together was when we took a one week road trip to Mississippi right before I moved to Japan nine years ago.
I’m excited to document it all, and Anna happens to be a writer as well so I’m hoping I can maybe even convince her to blog a bit about our trip from her perspective. Only if she makes me look cool, of course.
I’m headed to Denver on Sunday, and from there we’ll be making a big loop through New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho up towards Montana and then across to South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas before returning to Colorado. If you’ve been to any of these places we’d love your tips!
Tl;dr: I’m hella flakey and my friend Anna is loyal to a fault. We’re going on a 5-week road trip around the US!