Why I stayed. Why I left.

Omaha’s not so easy to reach. It’s dead-center America, equidistant from everything, close to nothing. Flights are indirect and multilegged. For the most part, you can drive hours in any direction away from town and see nothing but corn.

The drive to my parents’ home near Washington, DC, takes 20 hours, a trip I’ve made on several occasions (thanks to a passionate fear of flying). This distance has limited encounters with my family to once a year – a deep point of pain for someone as close to family as I am.

I moved to Omaha five years ago for a boy, and stayed – even after the divorce, despite the doomed relationships that followed, despite the terrible salaries and everyone-knows-everyone social scene – for its good food and cheap rent and entrepreneurial spirit. The city was already in flux when I arrived, on its way from sleepy cow-town to the silicon prairie, so it was a good time to settle in. Most of the friends I made were designers and developers and journalists. People were always starting new projects and companies and events, talking about VC and trying to convince the world outside of Omaha that we were worth looking at. And all this creativity was anchored by the city’s abiding economic stability and low cost of living, so we could do things like switch careers midstream, or take on engaging work for pennies, or help out a friend’s company, or quit our jobs to freelance. As far as taking risks is concerned, Omaha’s a good place to do it.

I had plenty of reasons to stay, it seemed, always, at any given moment. I liked Omaha. I loved Omaha. I built a good life there, despite many, many moments of sincere struggle (experiences no different than everyone else mucking through their late 20s).

But I grew up in northern Virginia. I’m an east coast girl, as anyone has seen my driving can attest. And in the back of my mind, I think I always knew I’d return to DC – it was just a question of when. And “when” was always a far-off, mythical, future proposition.

In May, my brother and his wife announced that they were starting a family, and shortly after, moved back to DC to be closer to our parents. And suddenly, that question of “when” for myself – that homeward pull that had been dormant for years – became very urgent, quickly and sharply and achingly. The family was changing, and I was 20 hours away.

So I packed my life into my Mazda and drove away from Omaha on Thanksgiving morning.

What I’m going to miss most about Omaha is the people – my hilarious, brilliant, generous friends who gave me a family when I was so far from my own.

Now I’m in Virginia and the utterly familiar landscape of my childhood: the lines of matchstick trees crowding out the tiny sky, the ceaseless congestion of people, the Metro map that I’ve never, ever forgotten. I know all the road names but have no idea how they connect and spaghetti across each other. I’ve been away, truly, for 14 years, and I don’t know this place as well as my memory does. I have to learn it all again.

I’m grateful, incredibly grateful, for my time in Omaha, as well as for the newness I’m transitioning into. The upcoming holidays and the impending birth of my first niece, plus some very exciting work that’s occupying my brain these next few weeks, means that December is frantic, busy, jumbled, frenzied.

And at the same time, it’s not. It’s simply a deep breath. Like waking up. Reset.


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