The Day Which Started It All

It’s never easy to leave home, to embrace change, to step out into the great unknown…literally…but I did.

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July 22, 2014…the day which changed my life forever. It’s never easy to leave home, to embrace change, to step out into the great unknown…literally…but I did.

I grew up on a small farm in the hills of West Virginia. It was always beautiful. I was surrounded by a loving family and the best friends I could ever ask for. I told them all that I was leaving for a job. When you come from West Virginia, that is not an unbelievable statement. The poverty rate has always been high and good jobs are scarce. But, truth be told, that was a lie conveyed in a selfish attempt to make the separation easier. I wasn’t fooling anyone – especially myself. Leaving my family, and West Virginia, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But, at that time in my life, it was just harder to stay.

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Small towns are beautiful. You feel the connection to everyone around you. There is always someone around willing to go out and have fun, or to grab a cup of coffee if you want to chat. You can’t go out in public without running into someone you know. Which can be great since you never feel alone. But there is nothing worse than being in a small town when you want to be alone because you don’t want, or can’t, talk about what is going on in your life. The events which led up to my breaking point could fill up a book, much less a blog post, so I will save that story for another day. What matters is that I found myself in a state of…restructuring…for lack of a better term. My life, plans, and emotional stability took a major hit. Actually my life plan was completely obliterated. I was left clinging to nothing but my faith and hope that God could make it all work out someday. Looking back now, the transformation that those heartaches allowed me to go through dramatically, completely, and utterly restructured me into the best version of myself. But believe me when I say that it has been a LONG road…a road that has led me to the opposite side of the country and back again.

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Escape. A fresh slate. That is what I wanted – to go to a place where no one knew my story. That was the only way I could get past it all. I had to move on. I needed to forget, and that meant leaving everything that I knew and loved. I applied to internships all over the continental United States and then I waited. Believe it or not, I didn’t wait long. Actually, it was all of two days before I received a phone call. After a phone interview and a smack to my own face to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I had accepted a job in Twin Falls, Idaho. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure where Idaho was. I had to Google it. Potatoes. Right? That’s all I knew having never been farther West than Kentucky. I packed my bags and my car with reckless abandon and prepared for the long (2000+ mile)  journey ahead. I was excited, and terrified, and overcome with all the emotions swirling through my heart. Everything happened so quickly. It had all fallen into place so easily. I thought that somewhere in the midst of all this chaos must be God’s plan. Or at least I hoped it was.

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Worst case scenario – it was only for a year. After my internship was over, I could finally finish my graduate degree and I could come home again if I wanted to. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. My Rav-4 was completely packed to the ceiling with my belongings. I said a tearful goodbye to the animals. My mom got into the passenger seat of the car. It was time. My Dad is not a man of many words. Well…that is not entirely true. Normally, if I was leaving on a trip, he would begin chatting off a large check list of things to do, and check, and ways to be careful. But not that day. He just looked at me and I at him. Neither of us could say goodbye and we were both on the verge of tears. So I hugged him, really hard. And then I practically ran to the car before I could call the whole thing off. Then I drove. Praying to have the strength not to turn into a crying ball of mush.

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We needed to make time the first day. Well, I needed to put enough distance between myself and West Virginia so that I wouldn’t turn around. My mother and I had big plans and sights to see. It was to be a Mother-Daughter-Trip-Extravaganza! Road trip playlist was a go, and so was the coffee. We headed West – through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and into Missouri – St. Louis to be exact. Lucky for us, I had a friend who was living in town with her husband. They were kind enough to let us crash on the couch for the night. The next day we were given the grand tour of St. Louis from the Gateway Arch down to Union Station. We walked through the train museum and ended the evening with a pasta dinner at Anthonino’s Taverna which had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It was certainly worth the stop. We enjoyed the company of friends and prepared for our next stop on the journey. As much as my heart was still hurting, the sense of adventure was starting to set in with each mile and every new sight.

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Family First

We grow, we change, we leave, we return, but we remain steadfast in our ideals, morals, and family values.

“Family – Like branches on a tree we all grow in different directions, but our roots remain as one.” ~Unknown

     Two years. That is the length of time since my last Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Sure, I traveled and I spent time with friends. We had turkey, pie, and all the fixins. But it wasn’t really the same. I loved Idaho, but I missed my family. Every. Single. Day. Some do not understand my unabating need to go home. No matter where life takes me, there is a constant pull on my heartstrings, a violent longing for a place comprised of those things which I love so ardently. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing. West Virginia is a special place, almost like a time capsule in some ways. It’s full of small towns that people never leave, and even if they do, they tend to not stay away for long. Family is sacred. Everyone knows everyone. You were probably raised as much by your neighbors and friends parents, as you were your own. Kinship is strong in this state. (Go ahead…make a joke about incestuous hillbillies….we all know you were thinking them.) Joke if you will, but I don’t know a single person who has actually married a relative. Come on folks…this is 2016. I have digressed… moving on.

Kinship – feeling close and connected to others. Last I checked, that wasn’t a bad thing. Actually we could use a little more of that in the world. It feels like our society has become so superficial. We have ‘friends’ on social media that we never talk to. We keep our noses glued to our phones, tablets, and computers. How many real, true, deep relationships do we have nowadays? How many people do we take for granted? West Virginia may not have the best internet access, but we know our neighbors. We care about the people next door. We come out in masses to help those in need in our communities. Need proof? Read about the recent flooding in West Virginia and the response of our citizens who promoted the phrase: West Virginia Strong.

In West Virginia, people tend to have your back. The idea of a complete stranger stopping to help you might be a novel concept. Some may wonder why the inhabitants of this great state do stick together so tightly. In my studies of psychology and sociology, I came across the subject of Group Identity. This idea of bonding with those who are similar to ourselves may be ingrained in us from a young age. As part of the In-group, perhaps we see all the inhabitants of this state as an innate part of ourselves. We are Mountaineers, we are family, we are West Virginians. We protect each other as we expect others to protect us. Is this the only place in the world filled with kind people who are willing to help others? Of course not. But West Virginia is certainly one-of-a-kind in my eyes. We grow, we change, we leave, we return, but we remain steadfast in our ideals, morals, and family values. Our roots remain planted in the beautiful, majestic, West Virginia hills.

You may be wondering why I left if I supposedly love West Virginia so much. Good question. I never thought I would leave. It nearly broke my heart to do so. But, I needed to get away for a while. Somewhere along the lines of broken dreams, love lost, and too many memories…I snapped. All of a sudden, I needed a new life, a different life, somewhere far away. I needed to go where no one knew who I was or my history. Now, I am not a convicted felon and I was not in the witness protection program. But, those of you who grew up in a small town know how it is. Sometimes life happens, you get your heart broke, you can’t come across a single street corner that doesn’t contain a memory, or a person who wants to know your most intimate thoughts. Sometimes you need to get away, to bask in loneliness, to think deep confusing thoughts, and to put the pieces of your life back together. That is why I left West Virginia. It remains one the hardest and best decisions I have ever made. I made a new life. I found peace in the solace of nature. I found happiness even in the absence of the life I once knew. After a while, Idaho felt like a home away from home. I could have been happy there for many years. But life doesn’t always go as planned. It has a way of reminding us who we are and where we came from- even if we were trying our best to run away and to forget.

Last summer, my dad got sick, and everything changed. I knew what I had to do. It was time to come home. It was time to put my family first. So I packed up my life yet again, and headed East. My heart breaking all over again for those I was leaving behind and for the hardships that I knew were yet to come. It has been difficult to say the least, starting over. I feel that I have left pieces of my heart in so many places that I may never feel whole again. The one thing that has not changed, is West Virginia. It was still here in all it’s majesty, waiting to welcome me home. I don’t regret leaving. I found an inner strength and sense of adventure that I didn’t know I was capable of. You learn to be strong when you have to stand on your own two feet without the support network you were accustomed to. Neither do I regret coming home again. My family is more sacred to me than ever before. Being away has given me a new sense of thankfulness for every second I am blessed to have with them. My family will always come first and West Virginia will always be our home.