I left Oklahoma in 2011. For seven years now, I have called the West Coast home. When I go back to Oklahoma, everything feels so foreign, so small. As a little kid from Frederick, I remember thinking Oklahoma City was the biggest place in the world. I had no concept of something like the sheer size of New York or LA. The tallest building in my hometown was and is a grain elevator. Now, I have had the privilege to travel and live in a few places. Looking backward, I see a world almost unrecognizable to me; not wrong by any means, just different.
Of all the titles I get to wear, none brings me as much joy as the title of uncle. I love flying into town with a cool story, some inspiration, and motivation for my nieces and nephews. My favorite part is watching them grow and become little human beings with opinions, interests, and beliefs. I see it as my duty to try and encourage a sense of exploration while showering them with love and attention. If they graduate high school without fear of what comes next, then I think I have done my job.
Behind a shoe store, in downtown Elk City, sits a little record store. It is part personal collection, part ambitious hope of bringing new and exciting music to small-town Oklahoma. The owner is more than happy to help you dig through stacks of records, chat music, and listen to new stuff. With the explosion and resurgence of vinyl, I hope more shops like BTB’s Records and Rarities open. The world needs more gathering spaces where people can come together and discuss their passions.
Kansas is like a fat-free version of Oklahoma; the flavor is there but something feels a little wrong. On this trip home, I headed to the flatlands for my nephew’s high school graduation. As we drove north of Amarillo into the Panhandle of Oklahoma and then southwestern Kansas, a flood of thoughts rushed through my mind. Thoughts like… Why would anyone live here? These guys know the Dust Bowl and Depression ended, don’t they? Look, another cow!
As family and friends from all over converged on the small town of Elkhart, Kansas, I began to feel like a fish out of water. 16 years ago, I left small-town America. Since then, I have grown unfamiliar with the politics, societal norms, and what passes for a good time. I am sure for some this makes me seem like a snob or an elitist living on one of America’s coasts. For me, it is the reason I left in the first place. Where I grew up feels like the antithesis of all that I am. Every time I go back, I am reminded of this fact.
The practice of high school graduation is such an odd exercise. Like most transitional periods, it marks a turn in your life from everything you were to everything you are to become. With the turning of a tassel, a world of responsibility and decisions lands on your shoulder. There may be no other activity where so much changes so fast. Being released into the wild will determine how much you learned in the last 18 years. You’ll spend the rest of your life chasing that very truth. That’s a lot of pressure to put on an 18-year-old kid.
I love going home to visit family and friends. I hate leaving them behind. I hate watching my mother walk away with tears in her eyes. I hate missing birthdays, anniversaries, parties, and gatherings for no reason other than just being together. I hate that time is getting away from me. I hate that time is getting away from those I love. I love my life and wouldn’t change it for almost anything in the world, but I hate missing my family.
Of all the things that are expected of you in this life, this easiest thing is showing up. In fact, some might say it is half the battle. No matter the distance, I have tried to do exactly that. I may miss a lot of little moments, but I am there when it counts. I am there for the moments that matter. I am there when people need to know they are loved and appreciated. I am there for the same moments I want others to be present for in my own life. It is the least I can do, but it is the thing that makes me the proudest of myself.
Time and distance have a way of changing a person. I am not the same person I was at 18 when I graduated high school. I am not the same person I was at 27 when I left for Seattle. Bits and pieces are the same, but overall, I feel like a new version of myself. When I return home, I work really hard to keep this truth at the forefront of my mind. When I go home, I work to know myself and not compromise who I am and all that I have become.
I love to travel. It is one of my favorite things to do in the world, but I love returning home to Brandon. When I cross the plain of our doorway and see his wide smile, everything is right in my world again. It is at this moment that I am reminded of my true home. Here the weight of the world can melt off my shoulders and all in the world is right again. Wherever his heart is, so is mine. Wherever he is, is home. Traveling always has a way of reminding me of this.
Be good to each other,
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