I watch the city lights flicker into view as the plane descends. There’s the familiar catch in my chest as I try to make out the Sears Tower, the lakefront, the little line of highway that extends to my suburban home. Every time I return to Chicago, it’s the same feeling—a mix of excitement and fear, a fullness and a bittersweet ache in my heart.
This is the place that built me, the home that raised me, the lights and cars and chaos of a city I will forever claim as mine.
This is the town where I collapsed into a warm bed every night, the suburb where I stayed up far too late chasing boys and dreams and vodka with sh*tty carbonated slurpies from the gas station down the street. This is the place where my parents are, where some of my first friends still live, where I learned how to love and grow and fight like hell for who and what I believed in.
And no matter how far I wander, the air will always taste like sweet memories. No matter the miles between this place and where I now rest my head, the skyline will always remind me of the woman I am.
But I left.
We all do at some point, spread our wings or run in the opposite direction, searching for something that in the moment we don’t quite understand. But we know we must go.
We leave because there’s something inside us telling us to, even if that same feeling is also pulling us back with every step.
And so I left.
I traded wild city streets for country roads, loudness for stillness, a quick pace for calm. I packed my life into a little car and found myself a new home, my college home, in a tiny Northern Iowa town. And even though it wasn’t the place I grew up, even though it didn’t yet hold the same weight in memories, even though it wasn’t where my teenage feet found their path, it became a place I claimed as my own.
I grew there. I changed there. I followed my passions as they led me to new places, new people. I fell in love in Iowa, got my heart broken in Iowa, both lost and found myself in Iowa.
And every time the plane descends over those green fields, over those farms with cows calling out to one another across the pastures, over those country backroads where my feet used to find a rhythm on the dusty gravel, I’m reminded of who I am, of who I’ll always be.
Home is not one place. It’s not only where you were born, or who you were surrounded by when you were young. And as you grow, your home grows with you, changes with you, reminds you of all the people you were, and are every step of the way.
I left Iowa after college. I left just like I had left my hometown, leaving behind pieces of myself and memories in my wake. I left a life there, built by my own tenacity and love and strength I discovered in being on my own.
And I chased new dreams across the country, to southern California.
It was the same cycle—feeling an ache in my chest to be somewhere else, a conflict in every step, unsure of where I was headed but knowing I had to leave anyways. I traded country quiet for ocean waves. I traded Midwest stars for mountain views. I traded silence for a new sense of peace. And I made a new home, new love, new friends, new memories.
And that’s the beautiful thing about growing up, about leaving, about chasing dreams and passions and emotions wherever they lead you—you find yourself, you find where you belong in every journey.
I found homes in the places I lived, but also in the people I loved: In the Iowa women who raised me like their own daughters. In the friendships that built me back in where I grew up. In the relationships with my family, which were never, and will never be dependent upon place. In the men who taught me that love could make any spot on the map feel like home.
Maybe ‘home’ is not about where you are, but about how you feel. The way you find yourself belonging to a person or place, simply because it’s where your heart has decided to rest.
Maybe home is not about feeling rooted to one section of the earth, or lost if you haven’t found one location where you feel is where you’re meant to be.
Maybe ‘home’ is simply all the people and places your heart loves, always growing, always changing, always so damn beautiful. Always reminding you that no matter where you are or who you’re with—you belong.