Recently I went to a party, an annual party, of people from my Activity days. I went mainly to see and say goodbye to the host of the party, M, who is a good friend. She was leaving on a trip a few days later, so this would be my last chance to see her before moving away. My friendship with M always delights me...she's in her mid 50s, and the differences in our lives are so profound. And yet we have this wonderful connection...we always have fun.
I could only be at the party for about an hour and a half, as R had scheduled an impromptu dinner with other friends for that night. As M and I stood and talked in the kitchen, I became a little teary. So did she. I could tell she was in an unusual state. She is sweet and polite, but highly composed and no-nonsense -never one to wear her more complicated emotions on her sleeve. It's very unusual for her to cry, in public at least.
When I had to go, M took me to the foyer to see me off. And broke down, sobbing and gasping. Which set me off, too. She made a little speech through her tears about "wishing me all the best" and "have a good life," which was disconcerting, because in my mind, we'll see each other again! I'll be here, for instance, at winter break! And I left the house, sobbing. It was a jarring and unexpected experience, seeing that kind of emotional display from M. I think I was also shocked at the depth of my own sadness at saying goodbye to her.
Anyway. I walked, crying. Hurried, because I had to meet R and these others for dinner. And I realized as I walked that I was on a kind of auto-pilot...I was heading to the dinner meeting spot, which is in a strange location I don't go to that often, from M's out-of-the-way, strangely situated house, without even thinking for one moment about where I was going or how to get there.
The thing is, this complete ease of movement is because this city is in my blood. I've lived in it for twenty-five of thirty-two years, and I know it intimately. And I love it. I really love it, everything that is mundane and unassuming about it. Even writing about it right now makes me emotional.
This conjunction of moments - the emotional goodbye with M, and the sudden consciousness of my auto-pilot moving through the city - made me think about my current move in a new way. Though my upset about the move has been couched in railing against Scary City, what I am really doing is grieving the leaving of this place. So I thought as I walked and tried to compose myself about how I would be perfectly content to live here, in this city where I was born - where one of my parents, and hell, one of my grandparents were born - forever.
That, for me, is the disconnect in doing a PhD and becoming an academic. I don't want to leave my home. Of course, I didn't think about this as I did a PhD - I didn't plan a thing - and even when the probability of leaving for good loomed on the horizon, I couldn't really feel what it would mean to me. But over the last number of months, while it's been imminent, what I've been doing is grieving the loss of place.
And you know what? That day, as I walked, I thought that I would give up an academic career in order to live here, in Home City. I am not doing that now, obviously, but I don't know what will happen down the road, how much I will miss this place. I am rooted enough here that roots might trump all else. It feels rather antiquated and embarrassing to admit that, as an academic, but there you have it.