I used to say this really stupid thing.
When people asked me where I was from, I'd say, "Washington state." Then hastily add, "But I lived on the East Coast for four years while I was going to college." Like being from Washington was deficient in some way. Or detrimental. It made me feel embarrassed. Less than.
To my younger self, the East Coast was sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and almost European (which, as a high school student, was where I desperately wanted to escape to).
Where I grew up? Not so much. I was raised in a suburb 40 minutes south of Seattle; a suburb with a mall, a few convenience stores, lots of trees, a perfect view of Mount Rainier ... and not a whole lot else. The "look" was all about polarfleece jackets and bootcut jeans (often worn with actual cowboy boots). When neighbors and family friends heard that I was heading to Massachusetts for college, they'd say, with admiration in their voices (or perhaps this was imagined), "You're going back East?"
But then, something changed.
Well, I changed.
In 2013, I went back to Seattle for our wedding reception (one of two transatlantic receptions after we had eloped the year before!) and - reunited with college and family friends that I hadn't seen for years, and with the sun beating down on us as we toured the beautiful Tacoma and Seattle waterfronts - I saw Washington in a new light.
It was stunning. Resplendent, even. The Puget Sound shimmered in Tacoma where I grabbed a milkshake and burger with my brother as we reminisced about our youth symphony rehearsals and my ballet classes in the area. Later, as we drove up north, the Seattle skyline emerged proudly before us, with a handful of Washington's beautiful islands just visible in the distance.
How had I not seen it like this before? How did I miss this, when it'd been in front of me (literally - I ate my breakfast facing the mountain every morning) the whole time?
I'd been so blinded by my urgency to escape, to run and never look back - that I could only truly appreciate it once I'd left.
I knew this. But it still hurt.
That summer, I returned to London, listened to Neko Case on repeat, and longed for Washington in a way that I'd never had before.
And it wasn't even that I wanted to live there - it was more that I wanted to preserve that specific summer in my memory. The sensation of the warm sun on our backs as we ate Top Pot donuts and went for late night drinks at a hipster bar in Belltown; the memory of driving through winding, evergreen tree-lined roads (how I miss those trees!) toward Mount Rainier with my mother-in-law, who'd never been. The memory of sitting outside on our newly refurbished deck at home with my mom, dad, and brother until the sun set and it became dark - the memory of our togetherness.
And so much love.
A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram, when my thumb stopped at a photo of three women smiling in a selfie, with Rainier in the background. "Hiking through Mount Rainier!" the caption said.
And you know what? The emotion I felt wasn't happiness or nostalgia or joy - it was envy. And the feeling of being left out. Which was silly, of course, but that photo made me miss the beautiful, scenic environment that I'd grown up in - which, ironically, I didn't even like until a few years ago.
The other day, I got into an Uber in central London and the driver, making friendly conversation, said, "You've got an American accent. What part of America are you from?" And I answered, "Near Seattle. The Pacific Northwest."
"Ooh - I've never been, but I heard that it's nice out there," he said.
"Yes, it is," I said, staring out the window at the concrete jungle around me. "It's absolutely beautiful. You should go sometime."
This month's travel link-up is about a place you can't get out of your head. What's yours? Let me know in the comments and head over to Rebecca's, Emma's, Kelly's, and Liz's blogs to read more fantastic posts in September's link-up!