I never intended to live in RVA.
I remember when we first left the southwest and moved to Virginia. I was seven. I remember pulling away from our house as the sun went down and being overwhelmingly sad that I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom anymore. That I wouldn’t be able to climb the mulberry tree again. That my friends would no longer live down the street. At seven, the idea of uprooting was something I could barely grasp, I only knew I didn’t like it.
I remember playing on the playground at my new Virginia school and having people make fun of my accent. I remember telling people how much I missed Arizona, and that we were going to go back soon.
Then we moved again. And then again. And eventually, Virginia didn’t seem so bad.
Still, even by the time I was looking for colleges, I wanted to leave. After college, I wanted to leave, if not for different reasons. I thought a lot about Asheville. It seemed to embody the sort of thinking I liked reading about. Mostly I thought about going back out west. I wanted to study at Pacifica, or in Prescott. If I stayed on the east coast, I was willing to brave the traffic of Northern Virginia where GMU held the only graduate program in the state I found even remotely interesting.
In the meantime, however, I ended up slinging coffee in the cafe at Barnes & Noble, and while I was looking into everywhere else I wanted to study, I inadvertently put down roots. I made new friends. I had an old, very close friend move back to the area. I got married.
And despite all that, I didn’t want to stay here. Not now, at least. I wanted to leave and come back, maybe. Explore, but use Richmond as the home base we would eventually return to. Because, of course, I had dreams. People I wanted to study under, communities I wanted to be involved in. I still thought about Asheville. I thought about Portland. I thought about Boulder. I felt that by staying in Richmond I would always be trapped by the familiar. That the only way I was ever going to get out of the rut of working in retail and actually start doing research, of living the life I thought I wanted for myself, was to make a fresh start.
The thing that ultimately changed my mind, however, was beer. Not my friends, my wonderful, amazing circle of friends, with whom I was so convinced I could keep in touch with and maintain closeness even if Billy and I lived on the other side of the country. Not having Billy’s family here and knowing that when we had children they would have at least one side of their extended family nearby. Not finally feeling like I was in a job I was good at, one I could grow with that would allow me to do research at my own pace, or knowing that Billy was working towards a promotion in his. Not even the geography–being able to spontaneously plan beach trips or overnight camping trips because of our proximity to both the beach and the mountains.
It was beer.
Of course, there is beer everywhere. But what really, finally, drove things home, was a trip to Maine that Billy and I took last year. Burgeoning craft beer enthusiasts, we were thrilled to find that while early June was not the best time weather-wise to go camping in Northern Maine, there were a lot of breweries. We spent the rainiest day of our vacation away from our campsite doing a pub-crawl through Bar Harbor, and sharing excitement over all the craft beer Maine had to offer. On our way home we stopped in Portland figuring we’d pay Allagash a visit, and had dinner at a place with painted windows advertising over 120 different beers. The grocery stores had a great offering of the state’s own craft beer, and we thought it was so much better than home where, great though it may be, Legend was the only readily available local brew on the shelves.
Then we got home, and we opened our eyes. We knew, of course, about the Brew Ridge Trail, and had been to Blue Mountain, but had classified that as unique, limited to the mountains, and not a statement about beer in Virginia at large. But by then, Hardywood was making a name for itself and showed up regularly at Whole Foods. We talked about how weird it was that we got excited over this Portland beer bar, when Mekong was so close (and for the record, Mekong is much, much better). Center of the Universe opened up later that year practically in our backyard, even if by that point I was pregnant so we couldn’t enjoy it the way we might have if it had been there sooner. In addition to Hardywood, Whole Foods consistently had Virginia beers if not on tap, at least by the bottle, and we brought growlers there often enough that a couple of the beer guys started to recognize us.
I love drinking Virginia beer. But much more than enjoying it as a drink (because there is a lot of good craft beer anywhere I could go), the rise of Virginia beer is what finally banished the “grass is greener” mentality I’ve held since moving to this state 22 years ago. I needed that moment of self-awareness we had on returning from Maine at how foolish we were to geek out over something in one state, when we had the same thing at home.
I don’t need to go out of town to feel like the area around me is exciting. Whether it’s because I’ve changed, or Richmond has changed, I don’t feel the need to leave in pursuit of the life I feel like I should be leading, because the places I’ve wanted to go no longer have anything that home does not. Do I always participate? No. Part of that is due to life changes. But part of it is realizing that what I was looking for, was for my scenery to kick start me into doing the things I said I was going to do. And once I realized I was already in the right setting, I was able to look at thing things I *was* doing, and realize…I’m already doing the things I want to do. The choices I’ve made have put me in a place where I’m happy, and the problems I have are not with the city I live in or the external limitations I have, but with the decisions I make for myself every day–and I can live with that. Maybe my research is slow–and lately non-existent. Maybe I’m not studying under the people whose books I have read, and maybe I’m not changing the world. But I’m also not missing out on the life I’m already living while I dream about the life I thought I wanted.