In the strange way that life has this tendency to bring you back to your jumping-off point, I am back where I started my journey as an adult.
One year ago on Labor Day I accepted a job with a former client, and I moved my family north, forward in our collective narrative but back into mine. We are now living in the suburbs of Kansas City, the place I held my first job, bought my first car, rented my first apartment, and had my heart broken for the first time.
In a moment of naked honesty I must tell you that my memories of Kansas City are not altogether fond.
It is not really my kind of place.
I am a fundamentally a born Easterner, more comfortable with Eastern cities. I am happiest in cities where things are repurposed, not rebuilt. Cities whose old bones show through whatever new veneer is thrown up on top of them. Cities where three generations live within five square miles of each other, and houses expand with the size of the family, instead of being traded up every seven years.
But if St. Louis is the westernmost Eastern city, Kansas City is the easternmost Western one.
Kansas City fairly pulses with change and growth.
It is a city that is constantly reinventing itself, constantly building, constantly expanding. It is the picture of urban sprawl, as it reaches out greedily and gobbles up towns as it leaps from economy to economy. From my personal outsiders view, it struggles to maintain any other identity than prosperity.
However, in a second moment of naked honesty, perhaps sometimes Kansas City feels too much like a reflection of myself.
I am the poster child for upward mobility.
The oldest child of a working class family, I grew up shuffled between family farms and small post-war suburban tract homes. Half my brothers and sisters are in union trades. I went through college and graduate school on a combination of work, scholarships and the tolerance of my first husband. I moved from city to city wherever the next opportunity took me, not really intending to go anywhere, as long as it was not backward. I turned down jobs in academics to sell out to Big Pharma, a steady paycheck and a house in the white collar world of subdivisions and home owners associations, in an area of town where upscale retail establishments pop up like mushrooms.
I have at least SIX organic supermarkets within ten minutes of my house.
In truth, there are days when I wonder if it is the city I am uncomfortable in, or if it is my life.
I chose this world. I worked for it. I reached out for it with greedy arms and I embraced it. The house I live in offers more than a thousand square feet for each human inhabitant. There are days when I walk around it and it feels obscene. I am uncomfortable inviting my old friends into it because it feels like wearing a designer dress to a barbeque picnic – overdone and out of place. But I guiltily admit that I love it, and I suddenly can no longer raise my eyebrows at the owners of gas-guzzling SUVs without smelling of hypocrisy.
It’s strange, this life. The years and the miles stretch out behind and I can barely recognize the person I was when I struck out on my own as a newly minted adult, not 10 miles from where I am now. I look back on the days of ramen-fueled idealism, the painful drama that comes with trying on each new self to see if it is the one that will finally fit, and belatedly realizing that the only answer to life is to occupy the person you are at that very moment. Because if you lock yourself into one self, you will miss all the things that life has in store for you. You will miss all the things you can become.
So in the end, this city and I, we are not so different.
We are both still getting there.