Memory works in a funny way. I struggle to remember the details of notable events in my life, but can recall any number of insignificant things—specific instances of pretending to figure skate on frozen puddles, reading through baby name books before playing with Barbies so that they weren’t always named “Lizzie,” and the color of Keenan Ryan’s turtleneck when we ended up in the same ski school group in third grade. It was white.
One such memory that’s a little fragmented is the phrase, “you’re from wherever you learned to drive.” I can’t piece together whether it was said to me, if I heard it on the radio, read it somewhere, or at what age I first encountered it. It’s not even something I necessarily agree with, but there it is—nestled in my hippocampus, far too comfortable to leave any time soon.
I suppose I focus so much on it because I’ve moved a few times, and I have great difficulty figuring out where I’m “from.” Currently the count for years and places I’ve spent my life is three years in Tokyo, eight in Chicago, seven in Minneapolis, and I’m going on my fourth in Philadelphia. After graduation, I’ll spend some unknown amount of time in Atlanta.
This slightly nonsensical notion of attaching my from–ness to the place where I learned to drive might be what’s preventing me from renewing my now–expired license. My parents recently sold the Minnesota house and established residency in Florida, so my currently–listed permanent address is a home newly occupied by a random family of four whose youngest son likes catching frogs.
This technicality means that there will no longer be a small card validating the seven years I spent living in a house with an old canoe hanging from the ceiling and the dozens of gnomes hidden on the first floor, and the hill in the backyard where my brother broke his wrist sledding as a seventeen–year–old. When and if I renew my license this year, it will state that I’m from Florida.
While I never felt that Minnesota completely told the story of where I was “from,” it’s certainly more accurate than a place that I have never lived. The pending need to get rid of my Minnesota license feels a bit like turning the last page in a particularly good book—the story is over, but I’m not quite ready to acknowledge the ending.
Minnesota stirs images of wholesome family fun, a touch of passive–aggressiveness to be blamed on those eternal winters and a ridiculous accent. It’s a sweet image, but if I abide by the “wherever you learned to drive” rule and say I’m from Minnesota, I feel like I’m negating the friendships, experiences and memories I’ve made during the other two thirds of my life.
Being from Chicago, on the other hand, means I’m from the “cool” Midwestern city. You pick up on some of the warmth associated with the Midwest, but East Coast residents will actually acknowledge it as a real place.
I hate the question of where I’m from because the answer I give never measures up to the answer it deserves. I’d rather be from memories than places, but the geographical nature of it doesn’t let me say that I’m “from” summers at the cabin, “from” trying to subtly crack my knuckles at the kitchen table, or “from” growing up somehow loving and hating country music at the same time.
It’s not a question that calls for an explanation of the history behind my sister sending me a Halloween costume for my birthday every year. I don’t get to say that I’m “from” passing by a house with pig figurines stuck in its fence, “from” writing stories with my dad about magic Kool-Aid that turned kids into animals, or “from” knocking out my brother’s tooth with a plastic microphone at the top of our staircase—accidentally, of course.
When people ask me where I’m from, I know they aren’t wondering about the mental list of crushes I’ve had since I was seven, how I’ve never had the discipline to keep a journal, or the reasoning behind my desire to get lost on each first day of school, but these little things explain so much more than a breakdown of my life by location.
I’m holding off on the license renewal until I move to Atlanta. Even though the license will say Georgia, I’ll try to explain that I’ve actually spent the last four years resisting the urge to stop at Wawa on my walk home, complaining with my housemates about our differences in opinion on dishwasher loading techniques, and being annoyed with receiving twenty–seven group text notifications in the middle of class—half of which were heart reactions. I figure it might be nice to be from Philly for just a little while longer.
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