I moved to Norfolk, Virginia five years ago to go to graduate school at Old Dominion University. Truth be told, I wanted to leave Georgia – ready for a change, a challenge, an adventure – and I had always had a feeling I would live in Virginia. What’s more – I wanted to live in Virginia. I had no reason for this. I had ridden through the state once on the way to a family vacation in Washington, D.C. And yet, Virginia called to me. I imagined golden maple trees, and vineyards, and forests with the tallest trees I had seen. And I was right, to a degree. There are stretches of Highway 58, heading towards the Hampton Roads area, where the trees do, indeed, seem to reach up and up and up until they begin to curve inwards, making me feel like I’m driving through a tunnel of the oldest, tallest pine trees.
I came to Virginia for school, and I stayed because I fell in love with the area. I loved the water (even though it means flooding), the weather (even though it means hurricanes), the community of writers (even though it sometimes means more pressure than I can take), and the friends I made (no conditions on that one; the friends I made here are a second family). I got my education here, I got my first major publications here, I was offered fantastic opportunities to grow as a writer and a person here, and I took them, and I’m grateful. I figured out who I am; I came out; I became an adult; I tried on different hats. I have known great happiness here, and there are still times when I drive across the bridge from Suffolk to Norfolk in the mornings, as the sun rises over the water and casts a pink and orange show behind the packing cranes, and I think, holy crap, I live here.
I stayed here because I fell in love with the area. I’m leaving because I fell in love with a woman. And that woman has orders to California. We will leave in late spring. Which means I have six months to take full advantage of my time left in Hampton Roads, reliving the things that have brought me the most joy, or experiencing the things I have always meant to but never got around to.
And to help me along, I’ve begun making my actual Hampton Roads Bucket List, which you can see on my blog. As I work my way through the list, and also add things to it, over the next six months, I’ll blog about as many of them as I can, and the entry on the list will be replaced by a link to the corresponding blog post. If I can’t blog it, I’ll merely cross it off the list, happy for the experience.
I think there are certain emotional responses we learn to expect from ourselves. For instance, I know that if I watch Steel Magnolias, I will cry like a baby in the final third of the film. But sometimes, emotions sneak up on us. On the day I told my friends that, for sure, I was moving to California, I went outside to walk across campus to meet up with my friend Andrea so we could eat lunch and talk and I could process it with her. But my friend Mary called while I was en route, so I looped around the building, and I found myself facing a giant magnolia tree, and I burst into tears. Mary was saying lovely, comforting, encouraging things, but all I could think was, “They won’t have magnolia trees in California!”
Today, as I was making this list, a full six months after I first found out about leaving, I found myself in tears again, not because I don’t want to leave: I’m excited about the adventure that’s waiting for me. But I felt the bittersweet weight of leaving a place I love. It’s funny; we so often think of people leaving a town because they dislike it, because they need something that the town can’t give them. I don’t leave Hampton Roads as a person escaping it; I leave it as a woman in love, who has a great reason to leave but is also sad to go.
But before I go, I have people to see, places to go, lots of food to eat, and recipes to beg for. I’ve got my work cut out for me, and I’ll leave a trail of stories on my way out of town.