On the trip, people I knew vaguely in college asked me if I still lived in Seattle, and how long I'd been there. Since I left school, I said, so that's been like 22 years. A woman I knew even less well, in a scoffing voice said, "you lived there your whole life!" Me, frowning: No, I haven't. Much of it, though, yes.
It bugged me that she said that. First, because of how she said it. I think part of her aggressiveness relates to how I was perceived for my two years in Nebraska: I was an arrogant, chain-smoking, thrift-store-shopping, philosophy-reading, French-speaking, 90-pound, jumbo-haired, leather-clad punkass bitch. My attitude was relentless. Most of the girls I knew were puffy-permed pastel-wearing 80s clones. Most thought more about marriage than politics; the ones that didn't were far more dedicated students than I was. I liked reading books and writing papers, but I basically never went to class. I thought monogamy was stupid, and said so on a regular basis while living in a sorority house.
And now after 22ish years I pop back into town, with my skunk stripe and my black t-shirts and my bourbon and my lack of kids or make up, and my new book, and my glamorously percieved job as a very un-glam magazine editor. And once again, these women--happy and successful, from the look of it--show up, and fawn or scoff. The scoffer seemed to think I was a liar. I don't agree, but she got me thinking about how people are rooted in a place.
I lived for 7 and a bit years in a small town in Pennsylvania, and 3 years in a small town in Viriginia. There were the 2 years where most of my time was spent in Nebraska; I was "home" for about 6 or 7 weeks each year. As a kid, there was a total of 7 years in Federal Way, divided in chunks of 5 and 2, before and after Virginia. The larger chunk, I was driven to school in Seattle, so all but one friend lived in the city. The smaller chunk, I finished high school in the suburb where I lived, and made one friend that I've kept to this day. After college, I moved to Seattle within 3 months, and have lived in one neighborhood or another every since.
If you count college, that's 12 years in other places, around 30% of my life. It's not that much, really. But for me, it's enough to make what I think is a fundamental difference. I have so many memories imprinted on other places, so many hugely formative experiences in these weird small towns on the other coast or the even weirder mid-size midwestern college town. When someone asks me where I'm from, I never say Seattle. I say variations of "hometown is in PA, but I've lived here most of my life." It's important to me that people know I'm not a native. I would feel like an impostor if I let them believe otherwise.
Friends, including my husband, who did grow up here, seem fundamentally different to me. They're imprinted on one, or perhaps two, houses, and for the most part, they went to school with one set of folks. Their middle school bully may well have been their high school nemesis. If there's a food they crave and can't get, it's because the brand went out of business, not because it's only available 3500 miles away. They didn't experience culture shock, but they might have experienced that "we gotta get outta this place" angst differently than I did. I figured every place was temporary and easily escapable. Americans are supposed to, on some sort of census-based average, move once every 5 years; that would create 8 moves for me thus far. I've had 16.