Dear Eugene, Oregon,
I always knew that growing up meant leaving home, but I didn’t know it would be like this.
Ten years ago, I sat in the back seat of a rental car as my family drove slowly away from my best friend’s house. I looked out the window and felt like I should probably feel sad, but I didn’t. I was excited. Moving was an adventure. Everyone thought I’d be a dramatic preteen and freak out about moving – get rebellious and distant, argue with my family – but that’s not how I reacted. Looking back, that’s probably how I should have felt, though. I knew basically nothing about the place I would be calling home for the next ten years. All the information I had about “Ore-eh-gone” was contained in a few photos of my “cow house” with the huge stone fireplace and shag carpet, my Roosevelt Middle School schedule (I was just glad I wasn’t going to “Spencer’s Butt”), and some pictures of my mom standing around pretty flowers at the new university she was going to be working at. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Looking back at the past ten years of my life, I couldn’t have been luckier to end up in Eugene, Oregon. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always loved you – you’re a weird, slow, outdoorsy, hippie place – I’m much more of a city girl. I don’t really fit in with the type of people who choose to live in you; I like the fast-paced atmosphere of city life, I hate nature, I like when there are actually four seasons (not just “rain” and “construction”), and I never once wore Birkenstocks with socks (I swore when I moved there that I would never do it and I stayed true to that commitment). And yet, despite all that, now that I’m gone and my family is leaving, I find myself feeling kind of home-less.
Because here’s the thing, Eugene: without you, I would be an entirely different person.
Eugene, you taught me how to be a person and how to take on the world with optimism.
You taught me to be more accepting of people who are “different.”
I learned what it meant to appreciate nature, even if I never fully appreciated it myself.
You taught me that rain will come whether you’re prepared for it or not and that sunlight will always burn the fog away.
I learned to love college sports in a way I never thought I could – I learned to find a sense of community with strangers.
You gave me friends who deserved my friendship and friends who didn’t; I learned to be forgiving and to stand up for myself.
Even when I was desperate to get as far from you as I could to go to college, you still welcomed me home with open arms every winter and summer.
You taught me that being nice can get you farther than being smart or ambitious or “perfect.”
You gave me gymnastics and every bruise, tear, trophy, and friendship that came with it.
You introduced me to the most influential, important summers of my life – summers that taught me to accept myself, that taught me how to love, that there truly are people out there who will love me for exactly who I am.
I learned to get in touch with Judaism and gave me a beautiful community of friends.
You taught me how to mourn for people who are taken from the world too early.
You brought in the crowds for the latke party every year, the tradition I will have the hardest time saying goodbye to.
You gave me the most incredible high school experience with classmates who will take the world by storm.
You bonded me with my family. You showed me that family is the most important thing, no matter how far apart you are.
You showed me the most incredible farmer’s and craft markets.
You gave me a friendship that pushed me to grow every day, a friendship that has sustained four years of separation, countless arguments, late-night emergencies, and too many “I told you so”s to count.
You taught me to love writing.
I don’t think I can ever thank you enough for everything you’ve taught me. I haven’t seen you in almost a year, and next June, when my brother graduates from high school, may be our final goodbye. But you’ll always be part of me and I will always feel at home in my memories of you. So, my dearest Eugene, thank you. I love you, 541.