The two questions I heard the most after Tim died were “How are you doing?” and “Are you moving back to North Carolina?”
I guess I shouldn’t have gotten annoyed at that second question, but it always rubbed me the wrong way slightly. “They” say not to make any big decisions in the first year (spoiler alert – I have already blown this rule in multiple ways) and the question always inferred to me that I would need to go crawling back home to get through this devastation. When I thought about the question more, I realized that North Carolina doesn’t feel like home anymore… but let’s back up.
When I first started dating Tim, I wanted to travel as far and wide as possible but had no plans to ever leave North Carolina. He on the other hand, was dying to get out. I couldn’t imagine leaving my family and friends and if I’m really being honest, I was scared. North Carolina was the only home I ever knew, and there is certainly lots to love about it. Why leave?
As I graduated college, my parents simultaneously got divorced. I would never use the term messy to describe it, because many people have collected divorce horror stories that I couldn’t hold a candle to. Even so, I was living with my Dad during the time and I would describe the year as complicated. Add that situation to the fact that my younger brother was becoming an adult living his own life, many of my close friends had left the state and all of a sudden I felt like I was running out of reasons to stay in my beloved home. I applied to the job at SmartPak on a whim. When I got a job offer, I asked Tim if he would move to MA with me. He said yes, and packed the car and headed north.
In theory, I should have loved everything about living in the northeast but the reality was much different. My first day at work I drove around Plymouth crying, because I didn’t know where I was going and didn’t know a single person in the entire town but Tim, who was busy. Life in MA certainly improved from there, but we never really settled into life there. The weather was miserable – even during summer when it rained 28 out of 30 days in June.
Although I met a few folks I genuinely enjoyed, people didn’t seem to get me at work and Tim had a hard time making friends when he was working from home every day. We didn’t go to private school, grow up in the town next door or have the right dialect. After almost two years of trying, when Tim suggested we moved to Austin I agreed.
Here life suddenly became a whole lot easier. I struggled with jobs at first, but after a year found work in a company that appreciated, challenged and liked me as a person. I started riding again and thrived in living in almost constant sunshine with lots to do. Tim also brightened up, and made lots of friends. One night we had a party at our house, and I looked around at 20+ people chatting and drinking and having a good time in our home. I felt so content and joyful about my life.
Times got harder, but Austin never failed me. As Tim grew unhappier, he started to look for a new destination to fix his mood… which was always his MO in the past. He went through several rounds of interviews at Google before getting turned down. I was secretly relieved, because did not want to move to California even though I said I would do it for his dream job. In the months before he died, we discussed an exit strategy back to North Carolina. He thought he would be happier among old friends and in a different work place, and I agreed because I knew I had the potential to be happy in North Carolina. Of course, we didn’t get very far into that plan.
So now I wonder, am I moving back to North Carolina? For now, the answer is no. I wouldn’t mind crawling back home to lick my wounds, but the truth of the matter is that in my adulthood, my home has always been with Tim. We forged across the country and built our lives together, and his steady love is the component that made me brave enough to pick up and start anew.
In his absence, Austin has patiently cradled me during this difficult time. I love driving to the barn in the evenings, and watching the sun set in the gigantic sky that is Texas. I love passing cows and round bales and rusting farm equipment. I love driving past the sketchy party store in Manor with rows of hand made Donald Trump pinatas and a Blues Clues bouncy castle that hasn’t been clean since the 90’s and is likely to have used condoms in it. I love being able to text people and say, “Hey what are you doing tonight?” I like showing up to my reliable job with its steady constants. I love all the hipsters to make fun of. I love the over priced drinks and the over priced houses that taunt me with their unavailability.
It’s not perfect, but there is a lot to love. Do I think Austin is home forever? It’s hard to say. Forever is a fragile word. When you think you can begin to rely on it, the support beams like to snap in two. It’s home for now.
I lost the person who constituted my home, and it’s going to take me a while to figure out what that word means to me in the future. For now, it means an overpriced town with a water shortage and a lot of music festivals. Presently, that’s enough for me.