I went home this weekend. And while I will probably always refer to Ithaca and Syracuse that way when I go to visit, I realized that it wasn't home anymore. I had crossed that line. I was driving from the mall to downtown, on the main road into town and was annoyed with traffic. I had forgotten how awful Route 13 was on a Saturday.
I cut through some neighborhoods and wound my way through little streets to get to the Commons where I was meeting Hope and Heather for lunch. Where once I saw charm, where once I felt the warm hug of home, of where I lived and belonged, I felt none of that. It was as if Ithaca and I had had a break up and we were at the stage in the relationship where we could be civil with each other, indifferent.
Heather is moving to North Carolina, so this was a farewell lunch, the end of a tradition for Hope, Heather and me. Viva was "our" place. When the College had the annual holiday lunch, we skipped the forced fun and chaos and headed downtown to enjoy being anti-social. When it was one of our birthdays, we headed down, just the three of us to celebrate. And when I moved to PA and would head "home" for a visit, we met at Viva.
We always had the same thing. I'm not sure why they bothered looking at the menu on Saturday. Our orders are always the same. And we know how much each of us owes at the end, depending on if we got more than water to drink. And then over to Mayer's to buy three Lindor truffles -- dark for Hope, peanut butter for me, and mint or milk for Heather -- for dessert.
As I was driving through town, and even went I got a little teary-eyed and over-whelmed with emotion at the thought of Heather not being in Ithaca anymore, I didn't realize that I was making that break with the town. That happened the next day, back in Doylestown. That morning, when I was getting dressed for the gym, I pulled out the top pair of pants and top t-shirt from my drawer. I thought nothing more of it, other than they matched.
My t-shirt happened to be my "Ithaca is Gorges" one that Hope and Heather gave me as a going away present. As I was walking to the treadmills, a woman on the elliptical made a funny noise. There is no other way to explain it other than to say she exclaimed. And then, "I was in Ithaca yesterday."
I looked up at her. "So was I."
We made small talk. She and her husband were driving back from Buffalo and decided to go that way so they could eat at the Moosewood. I told her I had worked at the College.
"It's a beautiful little town. Would you ever go back?"
And this was the moment, the realization. I didn't even hesitate. I didn't even think about the answer. "No."
I didn't say it vehemently, but it was a solid answer. She was surprised. "Why not?"
"I like it here." And that was that. I enjoyed my time in Ithaca. Ithaca didn't do anything to me, but we grew apart. Or maybe it's more that we've outgrown each other. I live in Doylestown now. I like it here. This is home. And it's not just because I'm building a house here. Houses can be sold.
It's more that I'm building a life.