To Colorado, Apparently
If anyone has lived in Asheville long enough, two things happen: you either know someone who foregoes the small, liberal, outdoor-and-beer-centered town to move to a larger, liberal, outdoor-and-substance-centered town in Colorado. Or you, yourself, have thoughts about moving to Colorado. And why wouldn’t you? Denver is like Asheville. It’s got a National Park on its outskirts. It’s got rivers. It’s got beer. It’s got good food. But it’s like Asheville on steroids. It’s got many hundreds of thousands of more people. It’s got more jobs. It’s got more extreme outdoor activites. It’s got more young people. It’s got legal pot. To move forward from Asheville to Colorado is a natural progression and an understandable inclination.

Five years ago, Jess and I came west. The first step in the Asheville-to-Denver paradigm. Jess had been living in Wilmington for eight years. I had moved back for the year while looking for a job, still unemployed from having graduated during the recession. After a year of toiling away by the beach, I finally found gainful employment, perhaps even the first step in a career ladder. To Asheville I was headed. And Jess along for the ride. It was time for her to move on from Wilmington. She was tired of the scene, the people, the jobs. All of her friends had left. And true to form, I was leaving too. It would be the perfect situation. She had a reason to leave the place she had called home since the day she left our mother’s house. She had a place to land. She had direction. I had a built in friend, companion, and roommate to share the bills and the burdens of moving to a (relatively) new city.

We both had our responbilities for making Asheville home. She diligently scoured the internet to find us a place to live. I dutifully met with the landlords and scoped out the houses. Our first big (enough to be memorable) fight in Asheville was that I had signed a lease for a house without a dishwasher. This she new better than me–never live somewhere without a dishwasher. In addition to being dishwasherless that first house was dark, dank, and wood-paneled from the ceiling down the walls and covering the floors. It was in that first house that we became acquainted with our first neighbor-dog; we came to appreciate the sounds and earthquake-like shaking from passing trains;  I got a different job; we hosted friends and family from across the state on the weekends; we walked through the woods to drink uncountable Highland beers; I realized it is hard to maintain a yard; Moog entered our collective consciousness; we found the best wings and sandwiches in town; she found Crossfit; we manuevered our dating lives around each other; a boy moved in and a boy moved out; she dragged me along to house parties; we shared a bathroom; I tested out playing rugby; we made a little place for ourselves here.

Because we have spent our time in Asheville together, every friend I have in this town (save one), I have because of her. My love and appreciation for electronic music was born because of her. I know where the best burger (and second best burger) in town is. She was with me as I crossed the finish line for my first (and only) half marathon. My love for yoga is intense because she asked if I wanted to go one Friday at noon. I call High Five my favorite coffee shop because she deemed it so. My workout is intense and supportive because she urged me (for years) to go Crossfit Pisgah. She turned me onto the hemp granola parfait from Green Life. She knows where to get the best candy in town. I’ve sat for countles hours at the bars of Carmel’s, Tressa’s, Zambra, and King James with her behind the bar or sitting beside me. I would joke that we were each other’s significant other (she hated it). Friends are constantly reminding me of how much the two of us were together when they met us.

Reflecting on our time together in the past six years, I realize that while our physical separation is impending, our emotional separation has been a low, constant hum in the background of ours lives for a year and a half. She got a boyfriend. He moved in. Physically. Emotionally. Our paths began to diverge. Her nights off work were no longer spent on the couch, in a restaurant, or at a show with me. There are fewer pictures together. As many trips weren’t taken. Her time away from work was spent with him. My time away from work was spent by myself. We spent much of last year on an emotional rollercoaster with each other because we weren’t quite sure how to recognize, express, and navigate the natural changes and shifts we were feeling in our relationship.

Even through our struggle, she has been the voice of reason in the hardest things I’ve had to work through in the past year. Last summer was consummed with an estrangement from my best friend. Jess was the one who could make me understand what was really happening. She was able to break it down from all perspectives and bring me clarity through the haze of my emotion. In February, I was asked to give the eulogy at our uncle’s funeral. I confided to her in the car ride home that I didn’t understand why I was asked to do it. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to do it. Jess answered all the those questions for me. She explained to me everyone else saw that I was capable of that I couldn’t. And she had as much pride as our mother and father when I accomplished the task at hand.

I told a friend last week, “Everything will be different. From now on. All of it will be different.” His response, “things don’t stay the same forever.” He thought I meant here, in Asheville and in our house. And that’s true. When I have a partner at the gym, it will no longer read Rileyon the white board.  There will be no more three, six, and twelve hour drives across the state. There will be no quibbling about who’s ornaments get used for the tree this year. The concert schedule shared between our calendars is rendered useless. Random snacks won’t be sitting in the pantry for me to steal. Fragrant hand soaps will no longer magically appear by the sinks. The trash and recycling won’t be taken out. The mail won’t be taken from the box–and left in her car for me never to receive. Makeup won’t be sitting in the living room, eternally. The  one-eyed current neighbor-dog won’t have a jar filled with Milk Bones. There will be no reason to leave a light on at night.

But what he didn’t understand was that I also meant everywhere. To get clarity and rationality from whatever turmoil I’m in with friends or boys will now require a phone call or a text instead of during a quick rundown of happenings at the gym or in the living room or out for food. Every holiday won’t be spent together. Our frames of reference when talking with one another will now need to be explained. We won’t know the new people in the other’s life. The person I know to be my cheerleader and my support is going to live 1,449 miles away. The person who I answer to in my head when making all big decisions is leaving.

This isn’t the way it’s always happened. I am the one that always leaves. I left her with our parents’ crumbling marriage to attend college. I left her alone in Wilmington to return home to find a job. I bounced back every few years for the summer, between jobs, and bookending my graduate program. I always left. I was supposed to be the one leaving this time, too. I had grand plans last year to move to California. But the roles reversed.This time, I’m the one staying.

And now she goes west. To Colorado. Without me. With her new companion. She is scared. She shouldn’t be. In her new city, she will live her happiness and let it bloom without having to worry how it affects me. She will find more of herself free of the shadow I cast. She will get to explore what she really wants to do and how she really wants to be and who who she really wants to love without my interrupting it. In her new city, she will determine the best coffee shops and cinnamon buns; hike at higher altitudes; check out the newest fitness routine advertising with a Groupon; shop the cutest boutiques; house all the family and friends who will flock to see her and tour; perhaps find a favorite dispensary. In her new city, she will easily find a job, easily make new friends, easily slip into the comfort of being at home.

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