I left central Illinois in a five-seat hatchback packed to the brim with everything I could carry, and a few things I couldn’t—sweatshirts and memories, notebooks and the ideas in them, computer chargers and a healthy fear of the unknown.
I packed it tight, shoved it all in like a game of existential Tetris, and prayed I didn’t forget anything important. I left central Illinois, but the dust from harvest is still thick on my windshield. I have carried it with me all the way to Austin and now, my dirt-ridden car sits in my apartment complex’s parking lot like a show of good faith.
To say the change of pace isn’t nice would be a lie, and I won’t lie to you. The restaurants are open late and there’s always a new one to try. Despite the oncoming holiday season, there hasn’t been a single flake of snow. But the reason I don’t miss central Illinois is not because one home is better than another. I don’t miss central Illinois because you can’t miss something that isn’t gone.
A friend of mine, that same friend who moved to New York City, once told me how much she missed living in St. Louis, a place where she had grown and learned so much, until she realized St. Louis would never be gone. The city would always be there, maybe not the same as she left it after college, but the bones would remain.
The places we’re from always exist within us, growing and shrinking and finding new ways to manifest themselves when our circumstances change. I carry my home with me like the dust on my windshield. My patience in traffic is due to the tractors I followed when I took the backroads to school. I have made friends easily because, like my grandfather, I know that every stranger is a new friend. I savor the warm weather while knowing how to take solace in waking up to thunderstorms that rattle the window panes.
For all its faults, for all the fast-food chain restaurants that close at 9 p.m. and the winters cold enough to freeze your eyes shut, central Illinois has some decent bones, starting with the friendly, hard-working people always willing to extend a helping hand. I don’t think it will be much different the next time my dusty hatchback rolls into town.
During my first few weeks in Austin, I’ve learned that the point of home is not to leave or to stay. The point of home is to have something to come back to, somewhere to lay a foundation. The hard lessons and the easy memories are as bittersweet as they are valuable, and they operate as pieces of a whole.
As an actor, to accurately portray a character, you have to understand all of that character’s given circumstances. You have to know the basics—religious and political affiliations, family members and friendships—but you also have to pay attention to the minutiae of each memory: the time they got a detention in sixth grade, when their high school crush asked them to prom, when their first dog died. We are made up of all of the things that have happened to us, whether we realize it or not. We are all composed of our memories and the places we came from. We carry it with us.
A long time ago, I asked myself the question: Is there somewhere better than here?
The answer is yes, and no. Every place has its benefits and drawbacks. All of it is no more than a mechanism for personal growth.
When I left central Illinois, I packed everything I could carry—every memory, parable, lesson—and as I have changed and grown, I wouldn’t wish for anything more. It has been enough.