Thursday, September 13, 2012

bright lights, bull city

It's been almost two years since I lived in Durham. It was the first place I lived when I graduated high school, the place I called home while I tried my hand at that tricky thing called adulthood. I may not have stayed long, but it was certainly long enough to make a lasting impact on me. 

The city of Durham was one that I grew up hearing a lot about. My dad graduated from Duke law, and so - as all true Dukies do - he raised me to love and celebrate all things Blue Devil-related, including the city of Durham. In fact, I think I vaguely remember stopping there on a family reunion trip up to Virginia back when I was a kid, although I don't remember it well enough to know what my impression of the city was. All I can tell you is that there was a sense of familiarity with the place before I even spent my first night there as a resident. 

What are you more jealous of? My pink Keds or my lack of hair? (Also, why did I know how to curtsy as a two year old?)
So in the early summer of 2010, it was no surprise to me that I fell in love with the character of the Bull City. The aesthetic of the area itself is one that I always loved. Durham has this delicate balance of industrial boldness and delicate, historical beauty. You look around and your field of vision is constantly filled with gorgeous juxtapositions of cold steel and warm, rustic wood, of brick walls and wildflowers. I love that downtown is peppered with old smokestacks from tobacco plants and the weathered impressions of company names being worn off brick walls. There's something even about the railroad tracks that I find interesting and charming about the city. From the moment I arrived it felt like my kind of city, if that makes any sense. Like my spirit and its spirit were somehow old friends. 

And today I got to see my old friend. 

As we were driving from Columbia to Washington, D.C., Durham serendipitously fell almost perfectly half-way along our route. When Jason suggested stopping in for lunch, my entire face lit up. It was so unexpected, and I found my brain frantically scanning the list of friends to quickly contact and places I might want to go. It was odd - I was so happy, but I also felt this strange feeling of anxiety, like I wasn't ready to be back. I hadn't prepared. It's so funny how places in our lives can be tied so strongly to our emotions. It's just a place, after all, and I was only going to be there about a half hour, but the experience brought with it so many things. 

When we drove into the city and I started recognizing where I was, so many feelings came flooding back. There was familiarity and warmth, of course, from returning to a place that was such a pivotal point in my young adulthood. But there was also the fear and uncertainty I felt moving to a city where I knew not a single soul. 

It's been two years since I lived there, and on one hand it felt like time had stood still. We drove by my old street and my first apartment - an old, creaky house renovated into four units - and I think I thought at any moment we were going to just pull into my driveway and I'd make the trek up my uneven, rickety stairs up to my front door. But on the other hand, it felt as if everything had changed. I was so uncertain of who I was back then and in the past two years I feel that I've really begun to figure all of that out. That's not to say I feel much older (I definitely do not), but I do feel that I've come into my own in a way. Feeling like such a different person now kind of made it seem like I was walking around on some sort of movie set or a biographical tour - like this environment belonged to someone else, sometime a long time ago, and I was just there to observe. Despite the whole range of emotions that came over me, the overall impression was just as though you had passed by a favorite friend from your distant past. There's an unspoken connection between you simply for the time you spent together and the memories you share. 

Still, I can't even fully express the happiness that came over me when we were there today. The air had a cool breeze to it, a lucky break because it does get to be pretty scorching in the summer. It was like the whole city was teetering on the edge of fall. There's a part of me that wishes I could've spent more time there back in 2010. It's not so much a regret - I certainly don't have any of those because I think I'm walking the best possible path for myself right now - it's just more of a wistful feeling, like I wish the timing would have been better or that there was a position for me up there that was right. But even if it was hard to leave a place that was so good to me, I'm glad I left when I did because I was following my happiness. While I loved Durham, the people there and my agency, there was something even better waiting for me in Florida. There was family, the promise of a great relationship, and, most important, there was the chance to grow into my authentic self, something I continue to try and do every day. 

The Bull City will always have a special place in my heart. It's where I proved to myself that I could live on my own and make friends in a place completely foreign to me. It's also where I found out just how valuable my happiness is to me, and what I'm willing to sacrifice in order to pursue it. That high value I established early in my adulthood has turned out to be my guiding light. My willingness to walk away from a place that I loved so much taught me one fundamental thing about myself - as far as I'm concerned, it's not about where you are, it's about who you're with. 

Until next time, Durham. Thanks for everything.  

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