Choosing My Own Adventure

Note: I’m not quite sure where the summer went or how I fell so far behind the past few months. However, I have a few topics I was planning on writing about during that time that I kind of let slide until now. I’m hoping to get back onto a fairly regular schedule, with some of these now-slightly-out-of-date posts coming up soon.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” books always drove me crazy. I wanted to read every possible journey through the book, so I would find myself constantly backtracking in an effort to see where every option would take me. It was confusing and exhausting. I also don’t know that they’ve published one of those books in 20 years, so perhaps my team won that battle.*

*A quick Wikipedia search revealed that CYOA books were published from 1979 to 1998. Nice 20-year run, but none in the last 14 years.

One of my greatest frustrations in life is the same thing as these books. I want to know every possible outcome, and it’s simply not possible. Countless time traveling/change-your-life-with-one-minor-tweak movies have focused on this very premise; the slightest alteration to a moment in time can have drastic effects on your life.

For me the toughest part of this comes whenever I go “home” to visit my family. I had a chance to spend almost 10 days up in Washington last month, visiting most of my aunts and uncles and cousins (including my amazing new baby cousin Malachi). I slept in the same room in which I grew up, the bedroom where I have spent the night probably about 7,500 times in my life.

And I loved it. I felt home, I called it home and I cherished that time with my family and wish I could have stayed longer. I probably won’t see any of them again until Christmas, marking the longest stretch I’ve ever gone away from “home.” But it’s not home. Not anymore.

I have a new home, and it’s not even all that new at this point. I’ve lived in Ashland going on 14 months now (flew right by that one year mark), and it is very much home. Strangely enough, when I was up in Washington and I spoke of going “home,” I was always referring to Ashland. In a weird way, I’m always home and I’m never home.

Life presented a choose-your-own-adventure opportunity, and I took it. I moved away and found a new home, and it has far surpassed my hopes and expectations. I’ve written before about how thankful I am for my friends down here and the job I love, and I’m sure I’ll write again on the subject. But whenever I visit my family up north, leaving hurts.

Now this wouldn’t be one of my posts without a ridiculous movie reference. The line that keeps popping into my head is from Reese Witherspoon’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” In the movie, Reese plays a woman who ran away from her Southern roots and somewhat-troubled past to become a successful fashion designer in New York (I’m sure the similarities to me are obvious). Her struggles begin when she travels back to Alabama to essentially cut her final ties to her past so she can forever move on with her life.

Like all good romantic comedies, chaos ensues. She eventually chooses to return to the past that had haunted her for so long. At one point, though, she turns to her former/not-quite-ex-husband Jake (played by Josh Lucas – what happened to him?) and tells him, “My life in New York works, Jake. But then I come down here, and this fits, too.”

I know the feeling. To be honest, I absolutely believe I made the right choice in moving down here. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to walk away whenever I return “home.” When my plane touched back down in Medford I was happy to be back with my friends and my job, and I was home. But at the same time I wasn’t home.

There have been a lot of “firsts away from family” in the past year or two, and one week from today will be my 25th birthday and the first, you guessed it, away from family. I wish I had an opportunity to go home for my birthday, but at the same time I know I will have a great time celebrating with my friends down here. I am home.

I keep trying to flip back and forth between the pages in my own CYOA story. I’m trying to simultaneously figure out what will come next if I choose two different paths (or even three or four when I really get speculative), but life doesn’t work that way. At one point in the movie Reese’s character tries to piece together a split life between New York and Alabama, realizing it’s not that simple. You don’t have to pick one or the other entirely, but you do have to make a choice.

I don’t think I ever finished reading a CYOA book. I would get about halfway through and get so caught up in dueling timelines and potential plotlines that I would give up and walk away. But in real life I had to get back on the plane to fly back down here. I had to say goodbye to Malachi, knowing he’ll be so much bigger when I see him at Christmas.

My life in Ashland works. But then I go up there, and it fits, too. Maybe it’s crazy and a sign that I haven’t grown up since the days of CYOA frustration, but I still want both. Perhaps I run the risk of getting confused in the constant page-flipping, but I think it’s worth it. I can’t pick one over the other; they’re both home. And there’s no place like home. 

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