When I was talking with Alicia today, she said something that has stuck with me all day. We were talking about her upcoming move to attend graduate school, and how she doesn't feel like Bemidji is the place for her, and that a lot of people who grew up in the same area feel that way. I said something to the effect that Bemidji had come to feel like home to me (because I'm a small-town Minnesota girl), and she said that I've been away from Minnesota, I've tried living somewhere else, so I really know where my home is. The more I think about it, the more I think that she's right.
Maybe one of the best things that came out of my living in New Mexico is that now I know where I belong. I never would have considered going to Bemidji State if I hadn't had such trouble at New Mexico Tech my first year. During my junior and senior years of high school, I thought that I hated northern Minnesota, that it was too slow and removed from everything, and that the people would all be hicks or rich vacationers from big cities. I refused to even consider a college up here, sure that I would hate it and that I would be missing my big opportunity to get away from my home state, where I felt stifled and stuck in a rut. So I moved to a place 1,400 miles away in the middle of the desert, completely different in culture, environment, and attitude from the place where I was born. I only applied to one place: The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. I had my heart set on it.
After the first semester, though, I realized that there was no way I could stay there. I'd tried to stay stoic, tried to stick with it, but the day before I went home for winter break, I broke down and told my mother how badly I'd done in my classes (very, very badly) and how much I didn't want to go back there. But I couldn't bear to take a semester off, couldn't stand the thought of coming back to my hometown and working for six months because I felt the black hole effect; once the town sucks you in, you never leave again. So despite being sick with depression and fear of failure, I went back and finished my second semester while looking for a new college.
It was my mother who suggested Bemidji State. The older I get, the more credit I realize I need to give her. She knew what I needed: to be close enough to home that I could come back whenever I wanted, but far enough away to have some token distance from the person I was when I lived in Big Lake. But what I remember most of all was being tired. I was tired of being in an unfamiliar place where half the people spoke a language I didn't understand, tired of having to fend for myself completely because there was no one I could turn to for support, tired of having to be strong all the time because weakness in such a competitive scientific environment gets you eaten by the proverbial wolves. I needed to come back to a place that was familiar and comfortable. It sounds dopey, but coming back to Minnesota, and particularly the north woods, was a bit like returning to the womb. The memories I had of Bemidji were good ones for the most part: summers spent at my relatives' resort in Cass Lake, shopping trips to the mall and the Woolen Mill, family weddings at the church next to the hospital. I was returning to part of my childhood.
When I finally came back that first summer, I felt like a complete failure. I'd only barely scraped by with a high enough GPA to transfer, and for a girl who'd gotten only A's and B's in high school, it was almost painful. I didn't work that summer; I was too busy trying to piece myself back together. When fall came I was terrified to be going back to school again, but somehow I managed to pull up what was left of my courage and make the trip. For the first couple of weeks, I felt like I didn't belong; my roommate and everyone else on the floor already knew each other, and they were all friends. They didn't dislike me, but there were no english majors and no serious students.
Around the third week, I found Erin. We'd gone to high school together, and even tho we hadn't been friends then, we had some definite common ground. Suddenly I had someone to talk to. She introduced me to Grubbs, Froyd, and Hans, and from there my social circle started expanding. It took a few months, but I eventually I began to realize that I belonged here.
My second year has been even better than the first. I magically became popular somewhere around the middle of first semester. That's never happened before. Hell, I never even thought people liked me (but that's a topic for another time). Suddenly I've got friends, places to go, things to do. My grades are good. I'm happy the majority of the time. I don't know if this is interesting to anyone else, but I personally find the transformation fascinating.
That's not entirely the reason that Bemidji is my home, though. The rest of it is a bit harder to put into words. It's a feeling I get when I walk outside by the lake. If you'll excuse my late-night waxing poetic: when I walk out in the park, or even just in the grass between the campus buildings, I can feel the roots of myself burrowing into the ground. It's something I've never felt before; I feel like I can draw energy from the earth and the water and the sky, and let it fill me like water pouring into a cup. It's not the dry, ghostly feel that I got from the mountains and desert. It's life energy, a mother's love for a prodigal daughter. I feel it when I sit and run my hands through the damp blades of grass. I feel it when I crunch through fallen leaves along a walking trail in autumn. I even feel it in winter, the comfort in the soft white blanket of snow that covers everything, frosts the trees, wraps the world in clean, pure white, an embrace that promises safety and protection until the weather warms again and life stumbles from it's sleep. This place has accepted me. I realize that I didn't choose my home--it chose me.