My heart is in North Dakota. It grew up there on the prairie, so flat you can see for endless miles. You’ve never seen open space like that. When I go home now, I like to stand in the middle of an empty gravel road and just wait. No cars or trucks drive these roads often enough to make me move. My heart is there in the fields my family tended, in the creek behind our house where generations of farm dogs swam. It’s there in the cemetery we buried my beloved grandma in. It’s there in the small town where I cut my teeth, where I’d sit at the tiny library and dream of a different world. It’s there in the sugarbeet trucks that thunder down the road at all hours of the night in the fall.
I come to a full stop in my city life every month or two. I have a moment where I feel as though the flocks of people wandering through the skyways where I work are going to trample me, where I’m backed into a corner or a parking garage. I feel their eyes all over me, watching me go about my day. “Out, out, out!” My brain screams. I look around, seeing nothing but busy traffic on the streets below me, and I have an immediate need to escape it.
Reconciling my country roots and big-city desires is a neverending struggle. I grew up in the smallest of small towns; I had thirteen classmates, most of them from kindergarten to graduation. I spent my summer nights riding around the townships for hours sitting shotgun in pickups driven by the very boys I had grown up with, drinking Bud Light and throwing the empties out the window at signs. We’d drive those gravel roads all night long, radio playing low with the cool prairie air through the windows, and never get lost.
But I had to leave. I couldn’t stay in my small town; I needed more, more, more. I would lie on the floor of my teenage bedroom and page through hefty fashion magazines, thinking my life would be so much better if I could just get off the farm and into a city. I had massive delusions of grandeur. I wasn’t satisfied with my life thus far, I had been dazzled by Washington, D.C., by Las Vegas, by the idea of cities where no one knew my name. So I went blindly into the lights of Minneapolis; it’s not a big city by any means, but it felt enormous to my naïve 18-year-old self.
My heart is here in Minneapolis. It’s here in this city where I moved knowing no one and managed to carve out a little niche, form a little tribe of lovely people. It’s here in the lakes that sparkle all summer, it’s here even when the cold is extra-bitter and uninviting. A little bit of my heart is in every house I’ve lived in; I always like to leave a little piece of me for the next resident. My heart is here in the wreckage of a relationship that won’t be put to be until I pack my bags and leave for good. Minneapolis has been my home for a handful of years, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it not to be.
But sometimes, I feel like the city and all its residents are standing on my chest. I have to pack up my car, fill it with a tank of gas and drive 300 miles to my farm. There, I can breathe. I can sleep all day in my childhood bedroom, which has since been painted and redecorated in my absence. I can wander around for miles with the dogs for company. I can sit on the patio and watch the sun slip down below the horizon. I can get in the combine with my high school boyfriend and keep him company during grain harvest. My heart is there, where my big, loud family is, where my roots were planted. But I can only spend so many days in that lovely meandering quiet until I feel restless.
My heart is in Los Angeles. It has taken up residence in sunny canyons and overcast beaches, especially on 18 degree Minnesota mornings when I slide into my car, creaky with cold, and shiver my way to work, all of my organs shrieking in protest. My heart is in California, dipping its toes into the ocean and driving with the windows open. My heart is in Los Angeles, where artists paint Marilyns on brick walls and the air smells like fast food and glitter and magic. I long for that easy warmth, for the highways full of cars, for the sweep of sky outside the Getty.
My heart is in New York, thumping along busy sidewalks and train stops full of faces that blend together in a jumble, there are so many of them! It’s there with the boy who set it down in favor of that rush; I don’t blame him. No girl, no matter the sum of her parts, is worth more than that mythical city. It’s there in tiny dark bars and giant glittery department stores. My heart is there too.
“Your problem is that your head is urban, but your heart is rural,” I’ve been told. I joke that I’m going to cash in my chips, move to Montana and marry a rodeo cowboy. I sometimes think that’d be the best thing for me, to get rid of my designer dresses and lipsticks and live out someplace simple. Isn’t that what we all want, a simple kind of life? I could throw away my Twitter, get my news from a newspaper, live somewhere very far from a Starbucks. But I know I couldn’t. I know I’d go crazy. My heart is all over the place.