I love this place. I really, really do. It’s still intoxicating to me. There are still those late nights walking down those narrow streets where the trees cast shadows like memories across the double yellow line and I can barely take it. But before the hangover sets in it’s time to leave.
I’ve been here for almost five years—1800 some odd days. That means I’ve spent more time in this City than anywhere but where I was born. And boy has it changed me, I mean my god has it changed me. From the decisions I’ve made (some good, some bad) to the adventures I’ve taken (some planned, some not) to the people I’ve met (some friends, some passing acquaintances).
I called moving here a horrible mistake. I had just left a place I had loved and it was full of friends. I knew no one in this marble-covered town. I knew only that you couldn’t drink on the streets, which, as far as first impressions go, should tell you something about a place’s priorities.
It was hard to settle in at first. I viewed the fancy school I transferred to and the people in it as too self-important and I resented that fact. And it did me no favors. In spite of myself, I did manage to meet a girl who gave me an umbrella on a rainy day, and that made all the difference when it came to my sanity in the long run.
Those early years were hard for another reason as well. They were filled with long, sleepless nights that were long and sleepless for reasons I won’t go into here. It suffices to say that such nights do little to help one find his place among foreign streets and people.
But then everything started happening. I moved into a house with a bunch of mostly levelheaded guys (the “mostly” is intended as a compliment) and things started looking up. We had a crew and I felt more at home. Some of them were, after all, from the Midwest and we do have the best lot of Americans.
Days watching football on the porch, nights dancing in the basement, mornings drinking around town. It was that part of life where having fun was work in the best sense of that word. Where you finally had to throw in the towel on Sunday night and say, “I just can’t keep going.”
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, in the haze of living life, I realized that I wasn’t the same person. I realized that those years, those people had changed me, had changed all of us. We had, in many respects, built ourselves into the people all of us became without really realizing it.
I was reminiscing about those times with a friend just a few days ago; “Dear friend! You are in bed with nostalgia!” she said from Vietnam. “I miss you and those days too. I was such a baby.” She was right about the nostalgia: there was no one else to spend time with so I lay down with nostalgia because it was easy.
You see, Vietnam wasn’t the only poacher. Fast-forward a few years and everyone started thinning out. From New York to London to North Carolina, over and again. And before I knew it, the cautionary tale everyone hears on moving here, that all your friends will leave—eventually, had become true.
That’s not the end of the world though; at least it shouldn’t be. Something about making new friends and keeping the old, etc. But the prospect of starting over in the same city, walking the same streets, and frequenting the same places is simply not an appealing one. The world is a big place and giving the same city two bites of the apple seems to me a sin against fruit.
A friend (who, you guessed it, moved away) said shortly before leaving, “This city has made me who I am.” I feel that way now and that’s why I’m leaving. It’s the tense of that sentence, “made,” that I hate. I hate that it’s imbued with a painful finality. It feels arrested, like I’ll never be able to look back and, as my Vietnam counterpart said, see myself now as anything other than a younger, more foolish version of my future self.
So no this is not one of those diatribes about leaving the District, filled with gripes about this town or the people in it. Nothing about any of this is bitter. This is just the end to what has been a slow goodbye, an amicable parting of ways with an old friend after years of coming to terms with each other.
This city has made me who I am. It’s time to move on. It’s time to make the bed before my fling with nostalgia becomes anything more than a one-night stand. And maybe the next city won’t work out. And maybe all of this will be nothing more than the ramblings of a twenty-something at a crossroads rightly relegated to some dark corner of the internet. But I’ll never know unless I go.
Image courtesy of Begemot. Some rights reserved.