If you’ve ever left your hometown only to return, once or twice, or several times, chances are you’re familiar with the question, “What are you doing back?” As if being in your own town is akin to buying real estate on Mars. It’s a failure to launch. At least, a failure to launch properly. But I prefer to think of those of us who move home as the subjects of a physics experiment that pits the pull of the world against our origins’ gravitational attraction.
Almost exactly a year ago I moved from New York back to my hometown of Charlottesville, Va. It was the day after Thanksgiving; a couple of weeks earlier I’d had a prophylactic mastectomy because of a genetic condition that puts me at high risk for breast and ovarian cancers. I was reeling and sad, looking for life to be quiet and uneventful. I spent the first weeks at my parents’ home. After that, I crashed for a couple months in the basement apartment of my best friend’s house, waking each morning to the sound of her toddler running across the floor above me. I moved out of the basement. Now, for seven months, I’ve been living in a log cabin 20 minutes from town, near a crossroads called Free Union.
If figurines were awarded for completing twentysomething life-experience clichés, I have been angling for the entire set: the search for myself in central European beer halls; the move west to try growing up with the country; graduate school in New York. A log cabin in the woods has the air of the final trinket on the mantle: the Walden moment. Collect them all.
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