The leaves are beginning to crackle and fall in Annapolis—the city I was born in. The wind isn’t yet harsh or uninviting. It drifts slightly, wisping through hair and clapping lightly through the trees that outline my parents’ home. Growing up I dreamt of the bigger cities I’d live in, promising to leave this place for some arcane reason. I dreamt of careers and romantic dates and a more hustled atmosphere than what my home provided. But as I grow older, the easier I find it to return to this place that housed so many expectations and longings for Tomorrow. I find more comfort now cuddling into the stiff leather chairs in the den, sunken into sturdy, unfluffable craters after years of use. I find a safe familiarity with the scent of warm, buttery vanilla that unfailingly wafts through the kitchen year-after-year, or the way my bedroom is still a shroud to past obsessions and bleak moments of adolescence, as cataloged by unsightly journal entries.
I live in Los Angeles now. I moved several months ago with my husband in order to pursue personal life objectives, feed off the city’s electricity, and get urbanization out of our systems before we have children. I’ve both grown and faltered while living in LA, as well as all the other cities I’ve called “home” in the past.
The changes I’ve made stare glaringly at me every time I return home to Maryland. I can see how my face has hardened a bit, how my hands are weaker. I’m able to recognize the specific separation moving can create between long-kept friends, straining commonalities and easy conversation in a way that used to be effortless. I can reflect on where I envisioned myself being as a 25-year-old, and how differently things constructed themselves to prevent those exact expectations from coming to be.
Living in Los Angeles has also caused me to grapple with some hard and long-endured struggles. Returning home, away from a city that has begun to mold me daily, I notice how little-by-little I’m no longer living in a world of oppressive optimism, but instead am allowing myself to mourn through the pain and find the silver linings that don’t often appear in plain sight.
That’s the thing about returning home after being away—it teaches you things that you’ve been unknowingly learning so slowly that you’ve allowed their impact to slip through the cracks of everyday life. It causes you to slow down and become aware of where you had been, who you had been when life’s struggles were comparably less damaging and exhaustive. Likewise, it shows you how relieving it is to be able to grow, to change locations and circumstances that may have left you in a position to fail or challenge your ethical compass.
Being in Annapolis in autumn is a refreshing experience. The smell outside is crisp and thick with pumpkin, the spirits are higher than they had been through unwelcomed heat-waves and afternoon downpours, and a breath of life hangs softly in the air, promising change. That’s what has always interested me about my love of autumn—it’s the first taste we have of nature’s downfall, of the awaiting cold, naked trees and empty streets lined with dirty snow; yet somehow it brings with it not feelings of desolation or destruction, but renewal.
I never expect to be back on my parents’ porch, getting lost in a chilly wind tunnel or overcome with the nostalgia of field hockey fields and early autumn bonfires, wrapped up in sweaters and boots for the first time during the new school year. I usually return home on a whim or due to emergencies. So as I sit here without any prior expectancies while reminiscing on the past, I’m filled with the unusual hope of a child—dreaming of the potential the future holds, imagining what Tomorrow will look like, and me along with it, and allowing myself more grace for the things that didn’t pan out as I had planned on this porch 10 or so years ago. I’m also filled with the clarity that life’s unpredictability is what makes for a more valuable, conclusive life. The changes I’ve experienced since leaving Maryland five years ago have been challenging, rewarding, and the most idealistically realized aspects of my life, despite my previous anticipations.
And as I watch the wind gently pluck the leaves from trees I climbed as a child, I too am learning how to let go in order for new things to blossom.