Saturday, December 28, 2013

Finding Home

Home can be a complicated concept to people who spent most of their early life on the move.  I'm quite proud of the fact that I grew up as an Air Force Brat, for even with all its drawbacks (no "legitimate" hometown, a one to two year expiration date on best friends because one or both of your parents got orders to another base in a different city, state, or even country, etc.), I have become quite an adaptable person.  I can pick up and go and make a home pretty much anywhere.

It's with that attitude that I packed up my 1994 Honda Civic and pulled out of my parents townhouse in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA in June 2006 and drove clear across the country to San Diego, CA.  I was young, just a year out of college, and working a temporary job, and wilting on the vine in the decidedly uninteresting life of a suburban dweller with no significant other and precious few local friends with whom I had managed to stay in contact with.  When my friend Patrick, who himself had recently moved to San Diego, suggested that I come out there, I didn't hesitate to say yes and sign on for the Next Big Adventure.

Over the next seven plus years, I learned how to make friends who weren't already built into my social circle by way of school or work, reconnected with my maternal extended family in Los Angeles, discovered the inner world explorer who had no qualms riding public transportation in foreign cities where I didn't necessarily speak the local language, developed a taste for quality inexpensive wine and the concept of "whole" foods, put myself through graduate school, and launched a career.  There were some lessons that were harder to learn, like concept of "cost of living" and what it means in one of the most expensive regions of the country, as well as the emotional consequences of living 2,400 miles away from family and friends if you are the type that cares to see them with any sort of frequency.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I've been making overtures to leaving San Diego for quite some time--if not for some foreign country (and likely European at that), than perhaps further north up the West Coast to San Francisco where all the hot jobs are, or even up to Seattle where I have more family to tie myself to, and for a brief period I was even eyeballing the Chicagoland area, where I have a reasonably strong alumni network from my undergrad days.  By and large, however, it had been a lot of talk and very little action.  Life in San Diego has been good to me and it would take something rather monumental for me to give it up.

Just a few months ago I was enjoying an impromptu lunch with a business school buddy, and we got to talking about our futures.  I mentioned that I was looking into jobs up in the Bay Area and Seattle.  "I don't know...", I said between bites of an impossibly hipster Whole Foods salad, "I just don't see myself moving back East now."  The thought of coming back to the northeast/mid-Atlantic of the US, while not completely out of the realm of possibility, has for years come with a sense of unease.  Like I was giving up on something--myself, perhaps.  My dreams of being the captain of my own destiny who decided where she wanted to be and when, no matter how impossible a move it may seem.  Going back East felt like it would be...settling.  And I found that decidedly unsettling.

A few weeks later I saw a post on Facebook from a high school friend.  There was a high school lip dub contest between Pittsburgh area schools for the best original music video to one of a short list of songs that they could choose from.  My Alma Mater chose the upbeat Imagine Dragons song, "On Top of the World", and was brilliantly done as a one shot walk-through of the Senior High School with students decked out in everything from spirit t-shirts to band uniforms to hockey jerseys to choir robes singing along.  I must have watched it 2 or 3 times in one sitting just to take it all in.  I puffed up with pride and shared the post with other friends, reveling in my school's continued ass-kicking excellence in pulling off any type of musical production.  (Seneca Valley has been well known regionally for its strong music/performing arts programs for decades.)

I walked around with an ear-worm for the next day or two, and on the third night I had a dream about it.  I was with everyone, singing along and bouncing through the halls of SVHS without a care in the world.

Until I woke up.  The very first words that formed in my head when I opened my eyes were, "I want to come home."  With a clarity I hadn't felt in years, the words kept bouncing around in my head like the juniors and seniors through the brick halls of the high school.  I want to come home.  I am coming home.

And just like a cell that can lie dormant for years, that innocuous video awoke something in me that I feel viscerally, almost physically.  Suddenly, the idea of willfully living so far from my loved ones back East--and even going so far as to settle down and start a family that far way--seems repugnant.

The events of next several weeks after that revelation went by pretty quickly, and without going into all of the minutiae of it all, let's just say that I am extremely fortunate to have an excellent professional contact in an old friend from high school, which gave me the foot in the door that I needed to put my best MBA sales skills to work and I was offered a very good position with a fantastic Pittsburgh-based company after just a couple rounds of phone interviews.  I start my new job in late January.

Since I have been telling people, I'm often asked why I'm giving up paradise to move back to Pennsylvania--in the heart of winter, no less--and I have to laugh a bit at the special sort of harmless narcissism that Southern Californians in possess when it comes to their climate.  When I announced it in my staff meeting, I must have heard the word "weather" and "cold" a dozen times in 30 seconds.  Yes, San Diego is paradise. The weather, the beaches, the people: all beautiful.  It is, after all, America's Finest City.  There's no denying that I will miss not just the amenities of such a city itself, but I will of course truly miss the genuinely good and wonderful people that I have the pleasure of calling friends and co-workers.  I'm sure I will especially question my sanity by the second or third time I find myself scraping a layer of snow from my windshield, and likely the very first time I so much as fishtail on an icy road.  I may have learned to drive in all kinds of weather conditions in my teens and early 20s--including precarious snow and ice--but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

On the balance, though, what I will gain from this return to my adopted hometown does far outweigh what I will lose by leaving San Diego.  It's simply time for me to come back after having learned countless valuable lessons that make me appreciate being in PA far more than I would have if I never left.  "One must make an educated decision before deciding to settle down in Pittsburgh," my friend Liz and I declared to anyone who cared to listen to us while we watched the Steelers game at the bar last Sunday.  She is another high school friend who lived several years in Europe with her Dutch boyfriend-turned-husband before deciding to return to Pennsylvania last year.

I look forward to seeing my parents more often than just once a year--many many many more times with one set of them since I'm, heh, moving back in with them to save some money for awhile--and to being a real live person to my best friend's twin babies instead of just a Skyped face on a laptop, to enjoying the lush greenness of the Pennsylvania landscape after winter passes, to re-discovering Pittsburgh city proper up close and personally with fresh eyes, to buying my first home, to meeting some fine young man who has no qualms enabling my travel addiction...and to many more things that I'll discover over the coming months and years, I'm sure.

Yes, I'm coming home soon, and it feels good.