Personal Essays

Home Is Where The Heart Is

I lifted my eyes from the cement driveway and observed the scenery around me for the last time. My townhouse was painted baby blue, and the grass was freshly cut. The air was still slightly chilly from the night, but soon the cold air lifted and a swift breeze blew through, rustling the leaves on the tree across the street. The air was dry, something I will soon miss.

I stood in my driveway for the last time with my mom, sister, dad, Grandma Lois, and Grandpa John. Everybody either stared at the house or at their toes, blinking tears away. I’ve been waiting for this day for months. In a way, I dreaded it and looked forward to it at the same time. Everything was about to change.

It was time to say goodbye to everything I once knew. I was saying goodbye to my elementary schools, my friends, my family. I was saying goodbye to the park down the street from my house, and the swing set in the backyard. I was saying goodbye to watching my dad play softball on Thursday nights during the summer with my best friends. I was saying goodbye to my belongings as I saw it get sold to random strangers, including my bike and Barbie dolls. It was time to say goodbye to my home, Colorado.

Colorado was the home of some of the greatest memories of my life. I grew up in a picture perfect family: my dad was a business-man by day and a father by night, my mom was a stay-at-home mother, and my sister and I were the center of attention. We took family vacations, we gathered around the dinner table at six o’clock every night for dinner, and we hosted neighborhood barbeques. Life was really good up until I was ten years old.

My perfect family was falling apart. My parents decided to get a divorce when I was in third grade. My parents were tip-toeing over my sister and I’s feelings, but we knew just as well as they did that this family wasn’t working out. My dad started sleeping in the basement, and eventually he moved in with my grandparents until he could find his own place. We sold our house and moved into the baby blue townhouse, which meant also switching school districts. Life with divorced parents was exhausting. I adapted phrases I never thought I would, like “I’m staying at my mom’s house this weekend.” Or “my dad has a new girlfriend.” It all became too much. And then the time came when it dawned on my mother that we had options, and leaving Colorado was one of them.

Most teenagers don’t have to say goodbye to their childhood until they go off to college. Pretty much everybody I graduated high school with had been friends with each other since they were in kindergarten. I was about ten and a half when I had to say goodbye to all my friends. That was the last time I’ve ever talked to a majority of them, considering this was a time before any of us had cell phones or Facebook.

It was a nice morning in mid July. July 19th, 2007, to be exact. It was early, about 7 am. It wasn’t too hot yet and it wasn’t too cold either. The sun hid behind the clouds, leaving the atmosphere gloomy and the vibe even more somber. I could somewhat see the outline of the mountains through the fog. My mind flashed back to when I was a child, and my dad would point out which mountains were which. My favorite was always Pikes Peak because of its rugged outline and steep slopes.

I hugged my dad, grandma, and grandpa, holding each of them for what felt like forever. I didn’t want to let go, but I knew that life would be so much better in Iowa. By now, tears were streaming down my face, coming out in rapids.

When we were all done saying our goodbyes, it was time for us to go our separate ways. My mom, my older sister Amanda, and I got into the car. My cats were in their cages, meowing in fright, unaware of where we were going. My grandpa, Tom, drove back our U-Haul with most of our stuff to Iowa a couple days before, but the trunk was filled with the suitcases of the stuff we needed most. My mom turned the car on, and we backed out of the driveway slowly. My grandparents and dad turned to watch us go, waving. We waved back, my arm feeling limp with sadness. The tears didn’t stop; my face was swollen, and my breath was taken away. An overwhelming sadness washed over me; I was leaving everything I ever knew.

“Do you guys need me to pull over?” My mom asked gently. At this point, I knew if we stopped, I would have never left. “No,” my sister and I both replied.

As my mom merged onto the interstate, I looked at all of the buildings. They were like beehives; quiet from the outside, but buzzing with activity on the inside. When I was younger, I liked to name all of them based on their shapes. There was the Perfect Building, the Falling Building, the Red White and Blue Buildings, the Cut Building, and the Step Sisters buildings. I’d spent countless hours sitting in the backseat of my dads’ truck on the interstate during five o’clock rush hour with nothing else to do besides name the buildings. I let my imagination run free. And now, I was looking at them for the last time.

The land grew flatter as we neared Nebraska, and the tears stopped. Now I was just exhausted. The months leading up to this day were filled with stress, sorrow, goodbyes, and a lot of packing. Suddenly, all of these feelings were starting to go away. All I could do now was rest my eyes and wait.

The sun was setting as we came up to the Iowa border sign. It read, “The people of Iowa welcome you” followed by a picture of a sun rising (or setting) over a field. Under it was a quote “Field of Opportunities”. I sat up taller in my seat, staring at the sign in the rearview mirror until I could no longer see it. This was my new home. This is my fresh start.

We stayed in a pet-friendly hotel that night, and in the morning we were back on the road to Cedar Rapids. We were going to live with my grandparents until we found a place to live. We finally got into town around 1 pm, and as I got out of the car I could instantly feel the moisture in the air. My breathing grew heavier; it was very hot outside and the air weighed my lungs down. My relatives greeted us with warm hugs, which despite humidity felt great to have. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. All of the negativity in my life up to this point was dripping off of my skin, just as beads of sweat rolled down my forehead.

It is now 8 years later. Most people say, “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long!” but for me, it’s the opposite. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that short. Sometimes I feel as if my life in Colorado was just a dream. It’s distant and hazy. Moving here was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

Moving to Iowa didn’t solve all of my problems—grandma Lois passed away a few months after we moved, making July 19th, 2007 the last day I ever saw her. I went to a new school and was having some trouble making friends, and it was hard adjusting to my dad living in another state. There were no more spontaneous trips to Dairy Queen with my dad, or watching him mow the lawn as I swung up and down on our swing set. I would never see him play another game of softball, and the gaps of time we spent apart grew larger. It didn’t make matters better that my parents were still on bad terms.

There have been moments in my life where I would lay in my bed and wish that I had never moved to Iowa. I had vowed that the moment I graduated high school, I would be on my way back to Colorado. I even applied to University of Colorado at Boulder, and got accepted. I chose not to go because I realized it’s not my true home anymore. I always feel nostalgic every time I go out to visit my dad and Grandpa John, but it’s not the same. I don’t talk to most of my old friends, my favorite restaurant turned into a strip club, and my grandma Lois was no longer there to welcome me with her fresh out of the oven snickerdoodles. Even though there were countless nights spent alone crying wishing that things had worked out differently with my family, things worked out for the better.

Life in Iowa got better. I adjusted to a smaller city, bumpier (and sometimes gravel) roads, no more mountains, and a lot fewer things to do. I made friends at school, cheered on my high school football team, and eventually worked at a locally owned ice cream shop for 3 years. I went through rough times—your normal middle school drama, puberty, deaths in my family, and dealing with depression from the aftermath of the move.

Most of the reason Iowa feels like home so much is because of my family. I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas a lot more now that I can spend time with all of my relatives, considering pretty much the entirety of my mom’s family lives in Iowa. We always have cookie decorating competitions, White Elephant gift exchanges, and of course all of us cousins go sledding on the golf course on Christmas day if there’s enough snow. Every Sunday, I used to go up to my grandma’s house with my mom while she would help sort out my great grandma Motsie’s prescription pills. Motsie and I would play UNO or Dominoes and she would tell me stories of when her kittenball (old term for softball) team in the 30’s was undefeated. In middle school, my cousins and I would work for my grandpa Tom on his farm, helping him out with various farm stuff, and getting to zipline at the end of the day on the zipline he built himself. I used to visit my family in Iowa before I moved here, but once we were able to be together more, we became so much closer.

I became more family oriented, and I realized how important it is to live your life to the fullest. Along with my Colorado roots, I was able to plant some from Iowa. I love to snowboard and hike, but I also love to play on grandpa Tom’s farm. I love to shop in some of Denver’s biggest shopping malls, but I also love the thrifty antique stores in the Amana Colonies. I could go on listing the differences. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my surroundings.

Along with securing my bond with my family, I’ve made some really great friends in Iowa. After I weeded out all of the friends that brought negativity into my life, I’ve ended up with some great friends. Some of whom I’ve gone to school with since I moved here in 5th grade, and others that I’ve only known for a couple years. We’ve had some crazy adventures, including kayaking, sneaking out at night, food fights at work, and even getting tattoos together. At the end of the day, I know I have them to lean back on and that all you need to make your new home feel like home is friends and family.

Home doesn’t necessarily have to be where you were born or where you grew up. People say that home is where the heart is, and I couldn’t agree more.

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