We were heading south on I-29, a road that seems to hold as many memories for me as an old home. Those trips to Flandreau for birthdays, the time I pulled over to answer a call from Peace Corps weeks before my first invitation arrived, the white-knuckled trips through snowstorms from Sioux Falls to Brookings and back. Conversation in the car flowed between three old and dear friends, most stories starting with, “Do you guys remember that time …”
“Are you excited to go back to Chicago?” Lucy asked as she, Brandon and I were on the final leg of our trip from Northeast South Dakota to Sioux Falls, with a pit stop in Brookings to remember those moments that solidified these friendships to last many years and life events later.
I looked out the winter to see the rolling green prairie. The sun high and the sky blue, dotted with picturesque clouds. My short stint in South Dakota between coming home and moving to D.C. was during the winter and I nearly forgot how wonderful the Rushmore State is in the summer. Take a few trees away and it was so similar to Lesotho that I nearly felt as if I was walking the three kilometers down the main road to my village. I took these moments to decide how to answer. I know that dread comes when you have to return to somewhere you don’t really want to be, and I wasn’t feeling that. But, I also wasn’t thrilled to go back.
“Yeah,” I told her, still staring out the window. With great hesitation, it wasn’t a lie but it wasn’t the truth.
This past weekend I had gone back to South Dakota for Melissa’s wedding and it was absolutely magical. My mom picked me up from the airport and we decided to have dinner downtown. I used to live in downtown Sioux Falls and I was expecting it to be unrecognizable, yet it wasn’t. A few places had gone and some had moved in, but it felt the same, as if I had changed but it hadn’t and that was comforting.
Lindsie joined us at the end of the meal and we walked up and down Phillips, like we used to when we both lived in Sioux Falls. During those summer nights, she would talk about her dream to walk across the country and I would talk about the Peace Corps. It’s been three years since we saw each other, our dreams now accomplished. Now married and eight months pregnant, her life is different from mine but it doesn’t negate that she is still very much important to me.
The rest of the evening was spent with my mom and then we headed up to Webster the next morning, but only after stopping at Queen City Bakery. Eighteen hours with my mother was not enough, but at least I got that much. This woman is truly a great mother to drive three and half hours to meet me at the airport, stay with me for the night, then drive me north to the wedding site, and then back home. She said it was her pleasure, but she is just a good mother. I miss her so much and I am so thankful that I got that time with her because I can’t imagine coming back to my home state without seeing her.
Then it was wedding time. Melissa, not unexpectedly, was one of the calmest, radiant brides I’ve ever seen. I’ll admit that I was pretty terrified that I would miss her wedding because I was away for so long, but I am so grateful life worked out that I could be there. The wedding was held at a historical park and it was simply perfect. The weather was fantastic and the details simple but elegant. It was also really fun to spend the weekend with hers and his family and the rest of the bridal party. My favorite parts were the little moments – Melissa spending the night with me the night before the wedding, the little giggles and stories between photos and getting ready, watching her stare out the window shortly before it all began. It was a beautiful ceremony and I cried, of course, but so did the other bridesmaids.
The reception brought together friends I hadn’t seen in years – a conglomerate of people pulled from different parts of my, most of them I hadn’t seen before I went to Lesotho. I danced and shared stories and just felt so full of life. It was really a perfect evening.
Lucy, Brandon and I stayed at this cozy bed and breakfast outside of town that turned out to be more charming than anything we could expect. We woke up to the bright sun highlighting a red barn, a blue lake and the greenest grass, a picture straight from a milk carton. We had an adorable breakfast with the owners and they gave us green peppers as parting gifts.
Lucy suggested we go to Brookings to revisit campus as, she called us, “The Dream Team.” It always makes me incredibly happy to see South Dakota State, even if it barely looks like the university I knew. We then went downtown for lunch at Cubby’s, while talking about once being known as regulars at different establishments along Main Street.
My last reunion was with Lee, at the airport. We decided to meet there so we could have ample time before I left and seeing him too was wonderful. Like with others that I had seen that weekend, I didn’t hesitate or withhold anything, I dove right into what I was feeling and where I am with life. I could always do that with him and it was reassuring that I could still.
As I boarded the plane I was so incredibly happy. I had promised myself not to worry about this or feel guilt over that, instead thrive in the moment. Those intentions were enough to derail all of my over thinking until I was in the air and then a rush of emotions hit me.
Something thick clung to me into the next day, today, and I had to workout it out in my journal. Am I fooling myself when I say that I like Chicago? Is there something I won’t admit?
No, that isn’t the case. I do believe this is where I am supposed to be right now and I am honestly loving my new city. What hit was the feeling that comes to all of us as we move, change, grow – loneliness.
It occurred to me that I enjoyed being with all of these people so much this weekend and I generally felt so love that I was anxious about going back to my place of residency where most of my friendships, while great, are still in the early stages. Maybe, eventually, these friendships will mature into deep, stable ones, but there is just not people here who’ve known me for years and not only accept but love me for all that crazy awkwardness that I am. For most of the people I was with this weekend, I can 100 percent be myself and I’ve realized that there are just few people in this world that I can do that.
This is not unique, though. This is life. We change, our friendships change. I’ll never escape loneliness but I can get better at handling it, maybe even enduring it. I am actually very lucky in that I have an active social life in Chicago and am meeting and making friends. I know that this wedding was a special event and it wouldn’t be an every weekend occurrence if I lived at home, but it’s really nice to know that the magic and love still exists when can come together.
Maybe that’s enough. It’s OK for me to cherish this weekend and be a little bit sad, but I am also excited about where I am in my life now. It’s different, sure, but it’s where my life is now. Accepting that isn’t always easy, but it’s where content can be found. And that’s all I want, content.