I spent 14 years of my life growing up in the same place and then, when my time for college rolled around, I left with no tears. The crazy thing is, after a week or two at Oberlin, it felt like this is where I’ve always been; like what happened before Oberlin never even existed because this is where I’ve always belonged, as cheesy as that sounds. Given that feeling and the fact that I hadn’t seen my childhood home in almost two months when I went back for fall break, I had a bizarre week.
I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going home, which is why the several times my mom asked me “Is it good to be home?”, I would always make a noncommittal noise to neither confirm nor deny my feelings on being back in Ann Arbor. Yes, I liked the fact that I could shower without wearing flip-flops, and that I could sleep in a room where the windows face west (my dorm faces east and mornings are hard for me), and that I got to see my fantastic mother instead of just FaceTiming her, but wow, was it an odd feeling.
I think when it comes down to it, I can’t get past the idea that Ann Arbor is the city of my childhood, just as I’m sure that once I leave Oberlin, it will be the place where I went to college. And with it being a part of my childhood, I feel that I have outgrown it. I grew up wanting to leave, and now that I’m sort of gone, I’m not exactly sure why I went back.
The whole time I was there, I kept thinking about Holden Caulfield, and how he felt when he visited the Museum of Natural History while looking for Phoebe. Holden said that the only thing that would be different the next time you visited the museum would be you, and I think that somewhat applies to me returning to the place where I grew up. It’s only been a couple months, but I certainly feel different. I feel like I’ve had experiences and have learned new things that have already shaped who I am.
I grew up in this museum, and now after two months in my absence, it’s all the same in the most surreal way possible. There are still people going to the high school I went to, taking the classes I took with the teachers I learned from. Downtown is still composed of a bunch of one-way streets with drivers who don’t know how to work the turn signals on their cars. There are still lots of college students crowding up the coffee shops. Everything is the same, aside from the fact that I’m not there anymore.
The thing is, though, I don’t really know if I would call Ann Arbor home to begin with. I moved there from Illinois just before I turned four, so for a long time it still felt like somewhere new and foreign, and my extended family was still in Illinois, so I didn’t spend many holidays in Michigan. Ann Arbor is also a college town: home to the University of Michigan. Somewhat like Oberlin, U of M is interchangeable with Ann Arbor and vice versa. However, none of my relatives went there, and it was never my dream school, so I never connected with all of the “Go Blue!” hype that everyone else seemed to partake in. Very simply, I never quite felt like I belonged in the place where I grew up.
Still, I made a lot of memories in that town, and it is the location of my favorite coffee shop in the world. Ann Arbor has a lot of deer, as well as stores that are open past eight o’clock–both of which are things I enjoy and Oberlin is lacking in. But I’m now in college, which I love, and things have changed. I’m moving on. It’s kind of bitter and kind of sweet, but regardless, living in Ann Arbor is always going to be something that happened in my life.
Ann Arbor is where I was introduced to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. It’s where I learned how to ride a bike. It’s where I once had an English teacher who explained to me that the semicolon is the sexiest form of punctuation. High school was certainly not the time of my life, but I cannot help but be reminded of it whenever I hear the fourth movement of The Pines of Rome, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. No, I never felt like Ann Arbor was where I was supposed to be like I do here in Oberlin, but there were still a lot more good parts than bad that I recall fondly.
I don’t necessarily know if I would call Oberlin home after being here for just a few months, but I’m not even sure what constitutes as “home” anymore. I do know that I spent my fall break in Ann Arbor wanting to go back to Oberlin. That’s where my life is now, I guess (?). Moving on to bigger and better things is great, and that’s what college is.
I like this life. I like living in Oberlin, Ohio, even though there isn’t chicken noodle soup, and there are no hills, and I don’t have a car I can drive here. I now have a lovely roommate, with whom I now share a joint roll of paper towels. I like the fact that I can run anywhere on campus in less than ten minutes if I’m late for a class in the morning (I am not fast). I like the chai from the coffee shops in Oberlin, even though it’s not the chai that I’m used to. This is different, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s a new kind of different, and it’s one that I like.