My little family of three flew to Colorado to spend five days amongst friends and family. The trip started out on the wrong foot almost immediately after we missed our flight and had to shell out an additional $800 to make sure that we made it to Denver in time for my best friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party. Pro Tip: Make sure to get to the airport AT LEAST TWO AND A HALF HOURS before the flight boards.
I definitely wasn’t anticipating how much effort it would take to make sure we had all of our stuff together after the stripping and redressing at the security checkpoint. (In hindsight, we made so many mistakes that ultimately contributed to us missing the final boarding call. And as much as it stings to look back on, I may formalize all my thoughts on what we could do better next time because we definitely can’t afford too many more mistakes like that in the future.)
By the time we arrived in Denver, the morning had turned into a wet and gray afternoon with snow lining the branches of the bare trees that snaked their way along the path to the rental car place. There’s nothing like actually seeing your small puff of breath to remind you that you really are alive. Everything felt so foreignly familiar. The drive out of the expansive DIA property teased me with landscapes so wild and forlorn that I nearly bubbled over with nostalgia.
I moved to Texas when I was 18, and though I’m “from” Colorado, I know it by “feel” rather than formal geography. And so, after each set of directions spewed out of my iPhone’s GPS, I’d interject a few personal landmarks for my husband’s sake.
“See that sign? The exit for Green Valley Ranch? My great grandparents used to live somewhere over there!” or “Ah, Montbello. My mom and her brothers grew up in this neighborhood, though I couldn’t tell you where exactly.”
Memories fluttered back with abandon, swirling with moods and emotions I didn’t know I held onto anymore. I’m home, and I’m a visitor all at once. And the duality of returning to the city that watched me come of age as just a passerby feels poignant somehow. Every time the stoplight shone green at some major intersection, I’d flash back to a not-too distant vision of who I used to be.
“That’s where we used to stay when we were waiting for our house to be built.” “And that’s where I used to shop for dresses for all our school dances.” “Oh and I used to meet my favorite English teacher for chai tea and cookies at that Starbucks on the corner.”
We eventually made our way to my aunt’s house, our home away from home for the trip, and I remembered that life isn’t like the Sims computer game I used to be obsessed with in high school. Families don’t stop aging just because you’re not in the house anymore. My cousins weren’t the little toddlers I used to babysit. In fact, I hardly saw them at all during the five days we were there because they were happily living the lives they’ve created for themselves while working, practicing or hanging out with their friends. And this time, the only baby in sight was my own son!
To be back in Colorado with my husband and my son required a peculiar sort of reconciliation: to figure out where these two gigantic pieces of my current reality would fit amongst the already-completed mosaic of my past. I wanted to make space for new memories without burying the old ones. I wanted to make sense of how the woman I’m becoming relates to the little girl that I left behind. I wanted to make up my mind about whether calling Colorado home means that I’m not content with where I’m at in this point in my life.
While in town, I was also able to reconnect with so many people from my earlier years, but from a much more vulnerable standpoint. In high school, I remember being preoccupied with never straying from my good girl persona. And as I look back now, I realize how my close-minded and judgmental perspective really cauterized any chance for heart to hearts with my peers. Returning with the desire to be authentic allowed me to scratch more than just the surface, and I’m excited to nurture relationships that didn’t have the opportunity to grow when I lived there.
Five days quickly came to an end. And we left for our return flight back to Dallas with THREE hours to spare, stopping to visit my great aunt and uncle on the way to the airport. I stepped into their front room with my son in my arms and my husband in tow. I was instantly overcome with the aroma of Thanksgiving dinner that used to waft through their dining room. And I could see 14-year old Maris running up the stairs to clean up the novicely applied eyeliner running down her cheeks. Each room held a memory of familial celebration. We chatted casually with my great aunt and uncle in the living room for about 20 minutes until my anxiety about missing our flight was almost too much to bear.
And then, my little family of three emerged into the cool, quiet evening swimming in my great aunt and uncle’s suggestions on which route to the airport was best to take. We returned our rental car as the night sky consumed the lingering Colorado dusk, and we stowed away our things on the shuttle due to drop us off at our terminal. I had wrapped Milo to my chest to free my hands to maneuver documents in and out of my backpack. But as we rode in the darkened bus, I began running my fingers through his hair like I do when I’m trying to calm him down. My right hand reached for my husband’s. I couldn’t wait to find myself at home.