How I Learned to Start Loving My Small-Town Midwestern Life

I have lived for six years in the city I promised to leave, because somewhere over the last year, I started to like it here. Like ... really like it here.
Publish date:
June 1, 2014
home, pride, midwest, indiana

We sat in my one-bedroom apartment on the couch I’d bought a few years prior, from Value City Furniture. The patio door was open, and that golden evening sunlight that makes everything pretty and romantic filled the room.We had been dating for nearly two years, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to get married to a particular person, to this particular person. My future husband was no longer just some faceless dude with nice teeth and a hot ass. He had a name. And a face. And some very legit worries about getting hitched to me.

We were having one of those Big Talks about marriage and engagement and whether those things would happen to the two of us, together, with one another.He did want to marry me, he said, but he always figured he’d grow old in Fort Wayne, Ind,. his hometown, the city of his high school graduation and college years. His younger brother lived on the north side of town; his parents, just 35 minutes away; his youngest brother, just two hours south with his wife and kids. His work was there. His best friend was there. His life was there, and it always had been.Me? I can’t even understand those kind of roots. I was born in Joliet, the second largest city in Illinois. When the Chicago Bulls won their first three-peat, my family and I cheered like maniacs and then hit the deck when the celebratory gunshots went off down the block. We kept cheering.In fifth grade, my dad got a new job, and I found myself in West Chester, Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati. The second week of school, my teacher called my mom--to tell her I was adjusting well. Having spent the previous five years in Catholic school, I only knew of bad news to come from a call home.

As the school district grew and redrew its lines, I found myself school-hopping like an army brat: From that first elementary school in Ohio to my senior year of high school, I would attend five schools within the same district. I left for the other corner of the state for college, calling Kent, Ohio, “home” for most of four years, except those summers when I came home and babysat.Graduation in 2005 found me a job 45 minutes from my parents, who had moved back to Illinois. I lived at home for a year before I got sick of the commute and the whole parents-as-roommates thing, and I moved to the town where I worked, Kankakee, Illinois, a small city of old lady bakers, churches, and those infamous gazebos from "Dave Letterman."This is all to say: I have no issue whatsoever with change. It fuels me. It’s exciting. After two years in Gazebo Town, I moved yet again--this time to Fort Wayne, Ind. It wasn’t so much that I needed to leave my city, but it was time for growth, and I found a position at a larger newspaper. Though Fort Wayne marked my sixth city of residence in 20-some years, my three “home” states bordered one another. While I know how Illinois is different from Ohio is different from Indiana, it’s all one big, flat landmass of corn and highways to anyone living in the other 47 states, So when I moved to Fort Wayne, I told myself I would not live in the Midwest for my entire life. Oh sure, I could settle here. My folks still lived in Illinois, and many people who meant the most to me had roots in Ohio, so I’d always have lifelines there.

But for the love of Rand McNally, it was time to experience something else. A coast. Some water. Mountains. A city that has never known a negative temperature. I didn’t care where I lived; if only for a year, I wanted to live somewhere else, anywhere but the Midwest. But I didn't.Fast forward six years, to now. Yes, I have lived for six years in the city I promised to leave, because somewhere over the last year, I started to like it here. Like ... really like it here.Part of it is the job. I’ve been at my current gig for a little more than a year, and it’s a position that challenges me while still allowing me to feel competent. My ideas are heard, and I have killer vacation.Part of it is my relationship to the community. I worked at the largest newspaper in Fort Wayne for nearly five years, and I got to know a lot of people. Now that I work for one of the largest educational institutions, I’ve met even more people. I can dine downtown, and I just might run into someone I know. When I go into my favorite coffee shop, they are surprised if I don’t order my regular beverage; and when I go into my favorite lunch spot, they don’t even bring me a menu. You guys, that is crazy. I have never lived anywhere long enough to be a regular. I have never gotten to know employees at my favorite haunts. I have never had a high likelihood of running into someone I know when I go downtown.And, of course, part of it is this new husband I found myself. Because one of my biggest issues with Fort Wayne after moving here was the utter and total lack of single people. Folks here marry their high school sweethearts--because people who are born in Fort Wayne never leave Fort Wayne--and they become divorced parents sometime in their 30s. For a transplant like me, that doesn’t leave a lot of eligible dudes.Or a lot of eligible ladies who could become my bestie and meet for margaritas after work. One thing any transplant knows: People who’ve lived all their lives in one spot already have friends. They don’t need you. They might like you, but you’ll never be their random-Sunday-brunch phone call. Which means we transplants find each other and cling to one another like leeches who just want to send a folded up note in the middle of history class.So when I saw the cute bald man with a nice smile at my friend’s birthday party, I assumed he had kids. Or a wife. When both of those turned out to be false, I figured he had a record. Or a secret crawl space of dead bodies. As the months went on, I found out this Fort Wayne guy was pretty awesome, that he was one of those guys who refused to settle and so ditched all the wrong-for-him women in lieu of ending up a divorced dad at 36.I also found an unexpected benefit: In ending up with a lifer, I also got to meet his lifer friends. Now when I want to have a party, I actually have an invite list of people who live in the same area code--coworkers who’ve become friends and the people my husband grew up with who I’ve claimed as my own. I have girlfriends to drink margaritas with or call for a Saturday afternoon pedi.Today, I haven’t looked for a job in another state, or even another city, in more than a year. My summer plans involve only vacations and downtown festivals, not pack-your-car and ditch-this-joint pipe dreams.And I’m cool with that. If someone would have told this to that girl on the Value City couch--as she stressed to her boyfriend that she appreciated his honesty while secretly hoping he’d move with her, like, yesterday--she’d have called your bluff.

And she’d have lost.