"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” – Henry David Thoreau
I flew into Minneapolis over sunlit squares of green and maize on a September afternoon in 2017. The scene brought on a stream of salty tears. Had I missed my hometown this much? I spent that idyllic fall weekend with my best friend on a greatest hits tour of the Twin Cities: the Walker, the water (Minnetonka, Harriet, Calhoun), Byerlys, Lucia’s and Mager’s & Quinn. The trees were the color of campfires and the lakes sparkled like a sequined tube top. The skyline was golden and faceted like a crown. We mapped out the book we’d write together on the back of a menu. We drank coffee. We hung out in her basement late into the night. I cried again when I left. It was like a movie.
* * *
30 years of friendship calls for multiple modes of communication: text, email, phone—sprinkle in some choice GIFs and lots of emojis. If asked, we’d agree that we’re too old for Facetime. Not technologically, but in principal. Given the span of 2000 miles between us, it’s hard not to feel a little heartbreak when you can’t be there IRL.
We met up again the next spring, this time on my turf—taking a short road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs for a long weekend. The solitude was welcome, neither of us tied to house, work or family, and we embraced the geriatric vibe the desert offered. Pool. Nap. Books. Coffee. Ladies who lunch. Cocktails at 3.
Such trips reinforce our friendship infrastructure. We connect, recharge, repair, seal, strengthen. We part prepared for the next earthquake or flood that will undoubtedly strike our busy lives as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends.
* * *
February 2019. One flight cancellation and three airports later, I arrive too tired to pull out my parka. Instead I braced myself for the arctic wake up call waiting for me outside of baggage claim. It can suck the air right out of you—break your face and freeze your eyeballs. This time I lucked out. My host was waiting curbside and greeted me with a warm car, bottled water, a blanket and hugs.
The next morning I awoke to a monochromatic landscape awash with white and grey, skinny charcoal skeletons marked the horizon. This time I wasn’t weepy, I knew what I was getting into.
* * *
We were driving through our old neighborhood, when I realized how little I recalled. “I don’t recognize any of this. What used to be here?” Katie seemed to know the area like the back of her hand, rattling off shops, restaurants and landmarks, where I was just thrilled to see the old Dairy Queen was still intact, and that I could picture the Cheep Skate roller rink where an ALDI grocery now sits. This is what happens when you leave.
“I don’t even consider you from Minnesota now. You’re from California,” Katie said, immediately rescinding my proudly held Midwestern Card. It was like a mosquito bite. Just a pinch at the time, but later on it started to itch. Was she right? Had I lost my sense of place? Winter hollowed into me, carving up the past I’d carefully crafted. After nearly 30 years, both distance and time have taxed my memories.
My best recollections of those 18 years have less to do with high school or the suburbs I grew up in, and more to do with my search for self. I was happiest doing poetry readings and playing strobe light ping pong in Katie’s basement or being the odd arty one, off experiencing the city like I imagined my adult self would.
* * *
I often rely on Katie to help build the history of our high school years, and she does the same. We spent nearly every bit of it together, save for our mutually exclusive church friends. Now, we check in with each other to confirm or deny experiences. The boys will ask me, did you ever go high school dances? I immediately respond, “No” but feel the need to consult Katie, just in case I missed something. Like, is it possible we never went to homecoming? Not once? A month later she’ll text me, “Did we go to football games?” I reply, “Yes—but only the home games.”
The landscape looks different covered in snow. On its best day, a blanket of white is lovely and romantic, at its worst it’s violent and heavy. It coats everything in cold and your eyes burn from the glare of it all. The repetition seems unavoidable. It’s different when the leaves turn. The autumn palette was designed to spark nostalgia, it fires up memories of cruising around Uptown, hanging out at the lakes, being on a sailboat, getting ice cream, going for walks. Winter is less nostalgic than I imagined it would be, especially if you’re not huddled around a fire or decorating a Christmas tree. Instead, we rush from car to shop, navigate islands of snow and sidestep patches of black ice.
* * *
After my family migrated west, it seemed only natural that I would do the same. After 20 years in California, I’ve settled into the sun, the coast, the vibe, my self. I wear it well.
We drove past my old house and while it seemed well cared for, it was also a bit sad. It had been painted a buff sandy color which looked hideous against the bright white snow. When I lived there it was a dark chocolate brown which complemented the lush summer lawn and stood bold against the white of winter. This new camouflage color was a pale attempt at hibernation. If it tried hard enough it might just disappear for a few months. I thought this state of metabolic depression was reserved for bears, possibly humans, but not architecture.
* * *
We did hit the Walker, and drink coffee, and hang out late in the basement playing ping pong and watching Badger basketball. We talked about Target’s rebrand and ate waffle fries with seasoned sour cream at Champps. We reminisced about the time we hung out with Prince’s half-brother Omar, who reeked crazy with cologne, in our friend’s kitchen in Golden Valley. We bundled up for a trip to Paisley Park to tour the studios and hit one of their Saturday night dance jams. It wasn’t even close to 1st Avenue cool, but I’m telling you, we owned that dance floor.
* * *
Home is where the heart is. I get it now. My heart is all over the place. Passing through the airport on my way home, I fought back a new round of tears.