Heart in Colorado, Roots in Michigan, and a Little Identity Crisis

I’ve sat down so many times over the last several months and tried to write this post. This “so, I moved back to Michigan even though I said I’d never ever move back to Michigan (ever), now what” post. There are drafts of it from almost every month since I’ve been living here saved to my hard drive; different iterations of the same post in fits and starts, all trailing off after a paragraph or two.

It’s been almost a year since I decided I was going to look for a job in Grand Rapids (MI) and just over nine months since I left Vail (CO) and watched the mountains disappear in the rearview mirror as I drove east, Subaru packed to the brim with all of the things that didn’t make it into the U-Haul, through the plains and cornfields, leaving behind a place—a home—that I love to move back to Michigan, my home state and a place that never felt quite like home, at least not in the same way Vail did.

It’s been just over nine months and I’m still not totally sure how I feel about the move. Until a month or two ago, it was all I could do not to drop everything here and run as fast as I can back to the mountains. I thought about it every single day. Lately, I only think it about it once or twice a week, so I’m improving.

I’ve spent a whole lot of time desperately missing Colorado and feeling incredibly out of place here. I’ve yearned for all the regular things you miss when you move, my friends, my grocery store, my favorite restaurants, my go-to trails and, of course, I’ve missed being surrounded by the natural beauty of the Vail Valley. But I’ve also missed living in Colorado because a big part of my identity over the last ten years—essentially my entire adulthood thus far—has been in being a Coloradan and in being the girl who didn’t just say one day she’d move away, but actually did it.

I have a complicated relationship with the place I grew up in. I know most people feel out of place at one time or another in high school, but, for me, it was constant. And it’s the thing I remember most about high school; that sense that I didn’t belong, that feeling of being untethered, to the people, to the place, to all of it.

It got better in college, where I formed friendships that alleviated some of those feelings. But I still had this restlessness, this feeling that there was more, that I desperately wanted to feel at home in a place in a way I hadn’t yet in my life. And that’s when I started thinking (obsessing) about leaving in earnest. It felt urgent; like I’d stop breathing if it didn’t happen. It was, of course, terrifying. I was scared to do it, scared not to do it, and truly worried that I might be one of those people who would never be able to get up the courage to do it. But then life presented the opportunity, and I accepted.

I took so much (too much?) pride in telling people I live in Colorado on trips back to Michigan over the years. Like it somehow validated my existence. Like saying it aloud to people in a place where I never felt a sense of belonging was like saying, see it’s OK that I don’t belong here, it’s OK that I wasn’t accepted here, because I do belong somewhere. I make sense somewhere. My life makes sense somewhere.

I cultivated many parts of my identity during my time in Vail; my love for the outdoors, for hiking and camping and riding bikes, for example. But the strongest, the most critical was being someone who lived in a truly amazing place that was, above all else, far away from where I’d grown up.

And now that part of my identity is being deeply tested. I’m just going to say it: I feel like a failure for moving back. Despite the fact that there are so many great things about my new city—proximity to family, plenty of easy access to hiking and biking trails, and a great coffee/food/beer scene to boot—I can’t get over the constant feeling that I’ve deeply let myself down.

On the other hand, I’ve been able to acknowledge that moving was the right decision; it was time to make a move, time for a new job, a new apartment, and even a new city. But I wonder constantly if I wouldn’t feel more content, more sure of the move, if I had moved to, say, Denver. Somewhere still very far away from the Midwest, somewhere still very far away from the home I came from.

Of course that’s always a dangerous game to play, isn’t it? The “what if that path instead of this one” game? Because, in the end, the only thing we find as we explore those sister lives, those ghost lives of ours, is an even greater sense of unease with the path we did choose. We’re so much better off doing the hard work to reconcile those parts of ourselves that fell out of alignment when we set out into something new than we are trying to retrace our steps in the hope of retrieving it all intact.

And this is where I am now, trying to figure out how to reconcile this critical part of my identity. Right now I’m doing this by satisfying my impulse to flee in different ways, for example, by planning more trips to more new places now that I no longer have to spend all of my vacation time and money to travel back to Michigan. I remind myself, frequently, that there’s nothing about this move (or any move) that’s permanent. This isn’t forever, it’s just where I’ve landed for now. And it’s a pretty decent place to have landed. I’m also working on cultivating a sense of home within myself that isn’t dependent on a physical place, which, I’m convinced, just might be the secret to happiness.

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img_4082Photos: Snapped by yours truly. Top: Gore Lake in Colorado. Bottom: Lake Superior in Michigan.
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3 thoughts on “Heart in Colorado, Roots in Michigan, and a Little Identity Crisis

  1. Well…having been a former Coloradan three times – the first two as a ski bum (with a 4 year hiatus between ski bum lives) and the last time 4 months ago…Colorado is a place that sticks with you and calls for you no matter where you go after you’ve moved away. I knew for me I couldn’t live in a resort after a certain time in my life – even with all its glorious opportunities and friendships it still didn’t hold what I needed for satisfaction. There was a certain confinement there that’s hard to explain – a wonderful bubble that after awhile begins to stifle you. I still feel the pangs of longing for that mountain resort lifestyle every time I visit a mountain town but I know it’s not for me anymore…or is it? Betwixt and between – sometimes it just is. Those who’ve lived in such a beautiful place and then had to leave it will always feel that. And going back? Well, you can never go back – really. Both you and the place have changed. Same for your home town. You have to leave the past and look at it with new eyes – then you’ll know where you fit in.

    1. Ingrid, thank you so much for sharing. Your words are wise and resonate with me. “…you can never go back…” I’m realizing how true this is. I feel very much in an in between space right now, but it’s all part of the journey, right? And there’s so much to learn along the way by moving forward. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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