27: Hometown Girl

27: Hometown Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Hometown Girl

He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Arms crossed over my chest, I lean against the doorframe of my lovely, two-bedroom apartment where I have lived happily for the last three years. I will miss the two luxurious bathrooms, the great-room’s hardwood floors, my balcony facing the lush green pines, and even the family sized dining area where I often ate alone. At my feet, my Shih Tzu, Chelsea, gives a half-hearted “woof” that echoes throughout the empty apartment.

It is time to leave, and yet a part of me wants to unload the waiting U-Haul, return all the furniture I worked so hard to buy and all of the hand-selected decorations to their carefully chosen places, and to continue with my single, independent life. Part of me wants to stay here because I love this haven that I created all by myself, and another part of me wants to stay because I fear the changes that remain in my future.

I was a small-town girl when I left the Midwest and moved to Houston, Texas, to make a life for myself. I knew I could never really be independent living anywhere near my old hometown, my family, or my childhood friends. To be truly free, I would have to rely on myself for survival. Houston offered grand experiences, the doorway to travel to many different places, and mostly, a chance to set myself apart from those “simple” kids I grew up with. I wanted not just more — I wanted something bigger and better — and Texas seemed like just the place to discover it.

Liberated life was exactly what I expected — most of the time. I did my student teaching in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and learned a great deal about Brazilian culture. I ate feijoada every chance I got; I sunbathed on Copacabana Beach; and I took overcrowded buses to remote villages for the weekend.

I went to graduate school and won a grant that allowed me to explore Ireland while I was studying to be a librarian; I thumbed through yellowed books in the Long Room, admired Ireland’s literary history and cultural heritage. In the evenings, I tossed back a few Guinnesses with the locals in neighborhood pubs. I married another teacher, and we honeymooned in Mexico where we visited the ruins at Chichen Itza and snorkeled above the world’s second-largest barrier reef. On a whim, I hopped a plane with co-workers to Beijing where I walked on the Great Wall of China, then took a night train across the country to see the ten thousand Terracotta Warriors of the first Emperor of China. Life outside of my tiny hometown was an adventure, and I had the whole world to myself.

Yet liberated life was often challenging and sometimes even heartbreaking. My husband loved my strong self-assuredness, my sense of responsibility, my obsession with adventure, and my naiveté. Unfortunately, that naiveté blinded me to my husband’s serious problems, in business and with prescription drug addiction. I made ends meet for as long as I could, and made sure his doctors’ bills were paid and that he had proper treatment. Eventually, when it was impossible for me to stay, I did the strong, responsible thing and moved on with my life alone.

I was always at my strongest alone.

I gaze at the living room wall where the couch used to sit and where I had my first post-marriage kiss. The dining room wall has a barely visible outline of a painting I had commissioned with my first solo income tax refund. Turning my head slightly, I imagine myself standing at the kitchen bar preparing hors d’oeuvres for my first-ever hostess gig — a book-club meeting. Then I look over at the guest bedroom where the carpeting reveals the indentations of a bed and dresser — the bed where my mother and a few other guests slept when they visited me.

My eyes sweep past the master bedroom door where I curled up so many nights to read myself to sleep and on to the balcony off the living room. My wind chimes are packed away now, and I will never again sit at my patio table here in Texas and watch the birds feed while the breeze plays with the ends of my hair. A sudden nostalgia and longing begin to weaken my resolve.

“You ready, baby?” says a husky voice behind me.

I take one last look at the apartment, turn, and close the door behind me. Looking up, I see the bright blue eyes of my fiancé, Terry, shining down at me. Those crisp blue eyes have been glinting with mischief at me since second grade when Terry would pull my braid and run, since middle school when he would tell off-color jokes and those piercing blue eyes would light up with amusement at my reaction, and in high school when he would invite me to go for a drive with him and then wink one baby blue before walking away. I smile up at the boy from my hometown who is now a man.

“I’m ready,” I say. I scoop up Chelsea and scratch behind her ears.

It’s hard to believe that I’m blissfully married and have been living in my hometown for nearly two years now. My old hometown is no different than it was twenty years ago when I left. Yet this little town is a different world compared to Texas. I stand at the window in the front room of the house where I live with Terry and my two stepchildren. Fat white flakes fall from the sky and coat the gentle rise and fall of the fields around our home. Birds peck at the feeder hanging in the flowerbed, and Chelsea lies curled up in an upholstered armchair. The wood floor creaks as I lean over and reach for a sweatshirt, then pull it on to fight against the winter chill. I haven’t lost myself here as I had feared, haven’t lost the independence I valued, or the feeling of being special that I fought so hard to discover during my travels.

Florence + the Machine blares from my stepdaughter Teresa’s room, and I hear Thomas, my stepson, laughing at something funny on television. I smile when I picture those “simple” kids — small-town kids like me. Terry walks through the front room, talking on the phone, and stops to playfully swat my behind. I laugh. Later, I will go shopping with my mother and call my brothers to arrange a weekend movie with the nieces and nephews.

I have discovered something bigger and better, and it was here in my hometown all along — something more exciting than my solo life in Texas. I am a part of that something now. I am strong, I am independent, and I am complete.

~Erin E. Forson

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