I watched the bus pull up to the stop twenty metres away and I thought about jumping onto it and heading home for the weekend. Home was half an hour away; the patrons of the bar from Cheers probably had more of a long distance relationship than I did with my hometown. I hadn’t been away from my county, or a 13-mile radius to be specific, for more than a month ever. I am a 25 year old woman who has never lived anywhere further afield or tried to, which is something I’ve found hard to shrug off.
A couple of decades ago I doubt this would have felt as strange as it does now, as gap years and exploring and the hope of finding better or more exciting employment abroad have become so key to what you do when you’re young. I looked around in the wake of the last year of school and everyone was at least trying to save up to go travelling. Or they were about to be flung far across the UK for university, nervous and eager to live in a stranger city or have access to any kind of nightlife after 1am.
Except me, of course. I decided to go to a university as close by as I could get. The few friends who hadn’t moved away yet were still there if I needed them. I moved my stuff over the afternoon I needed to be there and when my dad waved goodbye, it didn’t feel so final; it felt almost anti-climactic.
Part of what began to bother me as soon as I started university was meeting people who wanted to know where I was from. It went one of two ways: I’d say, “pretty close by” and we’d move on to anything more interesting or I’d tell them “here-ish, actually” and they’d ask me for recommendations until they realised I am a terrible tour guide. Having stayed in roughly the same place most of my life, you’d still be better off with a map drawn by a giddy child or a compass that only points to Kanye West.
As I visited friends over the years and explored the places they were living, made up of unfamiliar streets and what they’d gleaned of local knowledge, I saw them grow into new landscapes. And I wondered if, like home, I was just the same as I had always been to them: a girl who had been happy to be left behind because it was easier than moving outside of the geographical box. Worse, I wondered if I had shrunk further into it. Watching people you know take leaps made me question if the steps I was taking were too small, or if I had any momentum at all.
After university, there was a brief window where I considered moving to London. It was another seemingly obvious chance to begin again somewhere, trying an entirely different place out for size. Those maybe-I’ll-move-away conversations became like recurring dreams, always leaving the same mental picture of me, a confused kid on a poster with a tagline that read: “Missing: one sense of adventure.” I told that girl that she was boring, she was holding herself back and that she had to do something about it.
Lost in looking at the lives and adventures of my friends, I found myself a couple of months ago telling someone that I should really move somewhere but I didn’t know why or where or if it was what I really wanted. My friend stared back at me, bemused. I might as well have told her I wanted to raise guinea pigs on the moon, because at least that’d have some passion behind it. For the first time, I wondered what I was really missing out on by choosing to stay put.
In the five years since I got my first full-time job I have made bigger decisions than the choice of my location. I moved out of my family home to make my own, when maybe it would’ve been cheaper and wiser not to, and I felt proud and fortunate to do so. I found new favourite spots in a small city I’d written off as long-since discovered. Plus these days, when anyone asks me for directions, I can rattle off the roads by heart and even throw in the odd landmark.
I called off a relationship that was going nowhere and left a job I could’ve stayed in to pursue something new. I made new friends and fell in love. This to me no longer describes a timid girl or someone who took an easy option and was stuck. It doesn’t say lack of ambition or no desire to see the world. It says that at the moment this is where I want to be, this is a place that I have grown into quite happily and with a rising degree of independence.
At every big juncture before, the idea of moving and travel felt like a turning point I’d shied away from. I thought I was the one waving everyone else off because I was too afraid to venture out and say goodbye myself. The beauty of looking back now is knowing that I’m miles away from where I started, even if technically the bus stops are still the same.