No place like home

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

This past weekend, I traveled to Texarkana to visit my family, find a wedding dress and celebrate my nana's birthday. My family has lived in or around Texarkana for about as long as I can remember. It's the town where I ate my first solid meal, spent summers lounging by the pool and got my heart broken for the first time. It's home.

Well, it was home. The more I settle into my life in Carroll County, the stranger it is to revisit the place where I spent 18 years growing into the person I am today. I realized this weekend that I haven't lived in Texarkana since 2010, which means I've lived away from my hometown for six years. It doesn't feel like six years. When you're busy studying and working, time passes by much faster than you realize. I'm sure many of you can understand that; life just goes by in a flash, whether you're aware of it or not.

Turning onto the interstate Thursday afternoon, it struck me how much everything had changed since I left. The city began investing quite a bit of money in improving the interstate in 2010, the year I graduated from high school. Between then and now, new overpasses have been built. That means the exits I used to take are gone or have been redirected to a slightly different part of the city. So on my first trip home since Christmas, I got lost on the interstate.

I'll repeat that. I traveled to the place where I learned to drive and got lost somewhere between Summerhill Road and nowhere. I had to use my phone to find a road I recognized just so I could get to my mom's apartment, which I have visited several times. As I pulled onto the road that leads to her apartment, I sighed in relief. Then I kicked myself -- not physically, because I was driving -- for being so terrible with directions.

Dora, one of my best friends, told me it wasn't so uncommon for someone who hadn't been to Texarkana in a while to get lost. She said she took a while to figure things out when she moved back to town from Conway, where she attended college. That comforted me somewhat, but by then I had stopped feeling stupid about getting lost. Instead, I felt something akin to an existential crisis. This feeling was exacerbated when later that weekend I noticed that a prominent area in town looked completely different than it did when I lived there.

In 2010, this area was the location of La Carreta Mexican Cafe and an Exxon Mobil gas station. I can still see those two buildings sitting next to each other so vividly in my mind, but they aren't there anymore. La Carreta, the place where I spent countless hours eating Mexican food with my friends, was torn down and a CVS Pharmacy was built in its place. The gas station, the place where I stopped for gas at 7 a.m. every Monday morning, is now a Starbucks.

That isn't my home anymore. It's not the place where I grew up. Now it's the place where other kids will grow up, where my friend Kasey is raising her son and my mom is raising a very energetic puppy named Valentine. It's their place to grow and learn in. When I first realized that, I felt a little sad about it. It felt a little like my childhood had slipped away without giving me a chance to reclaim it. Then I realized that I have a new home, and that's OK.

It's not just OK. It's how it's supposed to be. Today, I live in Carroll County with Gideon, my fiancÚ and cat wrangler extraordinaire. This county is our home. If we have a family here, it will be what our kids call home. And maybe someday they'll come back after moving away and realize that they have a new home, too. They'll get to find themselves somewhere new the same way Gideon and I have in Carroll County.

Isn't that what makes life so beautiful?

* * *

Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.