In the blink of an eye, one chapter of your life changes into another. Someone that you knew since you were a toddler becomes a stranger. A place that you've memorized by heart becomes unfamiliar. And you, you've changed so much that your childhood best friend wouldn't recognize you if you appeared right before them. It's been three years since I've felt the North Carolina air around me, three years since I last said goodbye to my closest friends, three years since I left my native home. I expected everything to be the same as I left it. I expected everyone to be who they were back then. Only after my brief visit back home did I finally come to realize that I expected too much.
As we drove past the tall, looming trees and the wide, dusty lanes, my parents pointed out all the different things that they remembered. I didn't remember anything. Only as we entered our old neighborhood did I finally have memories pushing themselves to the front of my mind. Home, I thought, I'm finally back home. Familiar houses passed us by, well-known paths and gardens seemed to welcome us back warmly. Yet, something had changed. I just didn't know what.
All the adults gushed about the changes in my appearance, notably my height. All my friends, who were all grown up themselves, welcomed me back with friendly smiles and familiar words. They filled me in on all the things that I've missed out on and on all the changes of our community. They all seemed like strangers to me, it seemed like I was meeting them for the first time. But as the days passed, their facades disappeared, and they became, once again, the people that I knew so well. The people who I could tell my innermost secrets to, and the people who I shared all my childhood memories with. My love and care towards them returned and our friendships were revived.
One night, we were all crowded around the television screen, watching the intensity of the basketball game on television. Our home team, which we all loved deeply, against some unknown college. We cheered as victories were made and groaned as the other team gained points. We were all on the edges of our seat as the final minutes of the game came upon us. When we won only by a narrow margin, we exploded, cheering like mad. Only then did memories of our past come swimming back at me.
They all told me that Texas had changed me, that I was an entirely different person. My love for pop music slowly gave way to the fun country songs. Healthy East Coast dishes gave way to fried foods and steak. My hair grew out, I adored shopping malls and makeup, my clothing style became unknown to them. But at the end of the week, they too realized, that deep down inside, I was still that little girl who cherished her stuffed animals and saved every blemished photograph in her memory box.
On my last day in North Carolina, I sat down on the little bed and thought. I thought about how much everyone had changed, about how much I, myself had changed. I had made plenty of new friends, and I wouldn't give up my new Texas home for anything. I had eventually moved on and became a different person. But then, as I waved goodbye to all the people that I loved, a little voice inside my head reminded me that, only here is where my heart truly belongs. Only here is home.
Note: This story is a sequel to "Moving On," which appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Stone Soup.