I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to D.C. I guess that’s in part because I think of these trips as visits to my sister, not the city. Even so, I’ve always enjoyed the touristy parts of D.C., and there always seems to be some sight that I’ve missed. This time around I had a few presidential firsts: a visit to Mount Vernon and a tour of George Washington’s home was one of them, the National Portrait Gallery being another. But the Lincoln Memorial was the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s beautifully situated on one end of the reflecting pool, the Washington Memorial on the other end. And there was something about climbing the steps to see Lincoln in his seat that was almost pilgrimage-like. (stand down, my Muslim friends. I said almost.) Sure, it might have something to do with the history that Lincoln’s presidency represents. The Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation. But I also think of millions of protesters gathering on the National Mall through the decades. The Women’s March on Washington. The Million Man March. The numerous anti-war protests. I think of Martin Luther King delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, right where I stood more than fifty years later.
I left D.C. on the day of Trump’s inauguration. As I listened to it on the radio, I couldn’t help but think back to my visit to Lincoln Memorial. I thought about the Women’s March that would be taking place the next day. I wondered how many more marches it would take for those with privilege and/or power to hear those who have been clamoring to be heard.
New York is another city I’ve lost track of in terms of how many times I’ve visited. My sister and I went again when I was visiting her over the holidays. We went on January 1st, happy to dodge the New Years Eve bustle. Even so, I still wasn’t looking forward to the trip all that much. The mere idea of being in the city is exhausting. It’s dirty and noisy, and the bus ride from D.C. to N.Y.C. is always kind of gross. No more, I always tell myself. Every. Single. Time.
Yet somewhere there always ends up being a next time, and I never know why. There isn’t a single, concrete sight, shop or restaurant that draws me to New York. But I’m reminded of a quote from E.B. White: “The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin–the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”
Chalk it up to a vitamin deficiency.
Any holiday longer than a week demands time spent with my parents in St. Louis. I look forward to seeing everyone. I look forward to my mom’s cooking and having leisure days that start at noon and end whenever I pass out with Netflix still playing on my laptop. I cherish the time I spend with my grandmother, who, at any moment I know I can lose – something I have been telling myself ever since I was a small child.
I go in with good intentions, but I always fall into the same habit of struggling through the readjustment process. Readjusting to the lack of personal space. Readjusting to having people around me who always want to know what I’m doing, where I’m going and how long I’m going to take. I begin to feel stifled and it makes me cranky.
Not having a routine also makes me cranky. So does the lack of socializing when I’m in St. Louis. Much of that has to do with time going by and naturally losing touch with people. Much of the time it’s also a self-imposed isolation. Since going away for college, St. Louis has always felt like a chapter in my life that’s now shut. I can’t go back, but I don’t really want to either.
Columbia, on the other hand, seems to be a chapter I can return to repeatedly. Sort of. Time goes by and things certainly change, but there are always familiar faces there. Fewer than there used to be, but enough for me to bring me back time and time again. These beautiful faces, which I first encountered in Columbia as a college and later graduate student, are some of my favorites, ones that I never tire of seeing.
There are times though, when visiting CoMO, when I have fleeting moments of insecurity about where I am in life – like instead of taking 20 steps forward in my life since moving from CoMO 7 years ago, I feel as though I’ve taken a few steps forward, gone back and retraced my steps a bit. I’m reminded of all the people I had met at Mizzou and I think of where they are now. Some are married or in committed relationships, some have kids, some are bounding forward in their careers.
I get down on myself for being so remiss in these areas, but then, I have plenty of reason to be content too, though it takes a bit longer to find those reasons. I know myself so much better now – my weakness and my strengths. I’m more mature, less insecure. I’ve developed grownup habits like budgeting my meager TA stipend so I can afford to buy cheese from the fancier part of the grocery stores without feeling guilty, and cleaning so I don’t live in my own filth. I’ve gained a sense of adventure, new hobbies that I’m actually pretty decent at. I’ve learned to tame my inner demons. I don’t always succeed at it, but the scoreboard definitely reads in my favor these days. In short, while the big milestones haven’t been in the cards so far, I have enough small ones to make me feel proud of who I’ve become.