2 Places to Call Home

Home is Where the Heart isThe summer is coming to what always feels like an abrupt end.  But today hit me hard because it was not just the end of the summer; it was the end of a once in a lifetime chance. This summer, I chose to spend a month in a two family house with a best friend and her family. When does anyone ever get to do that?

I grew up in Cleveland and moved to NYC when I was a 18 for art school. I instantly felt at home wandering the streets of the Big Apple. I loved the energy, the people-watching, the subways, the hustle and bustle. I dated New Yorkers–real New Yorkers– guys who grew up in Brooklyn, had strong accents, called me “Heatha” and drank “soda” not “pop.” I thought I’d never leave.

My mom would ask, “Do you think you’ll ever move back to Ohio?” “Mom,” I’d explain, “no guy that lives in NY is ever going to make Cleveland their home.”

Well, I met a guy in NY (but from Colorado) who would call Ohio his home. In fact, when I was set up on a blind date with him, he had just moved to Ohio from NY. Apparently, this made him a perfect candidate for a blind date with me…that an the fact that he was taller than me–though sadly only by an inch.  He was the guy who would bring me back home to live in Ohio (via a stop in Mississippi but that’s a story for another time).

After we got engaged and it was apparent that we would be living in Ohio, I went through mourning about leaving Brooklyn, a place that after 16 years, I had truly begun to think if as “home.” At this point in my life, I had lived equally as long in NY as in Ohio. I felt a deep connection to NY. When I would tell people, “I’m going home,” I could be referring to Ohio or NY. They both grounded me in different ways.

Over the next 12 years, I moved 5 times before landing back in the NY area, Cleveland being stop #5. Returning to Cleveland, I had mixed feelings. I was excited and nervous to be near family and back in my home town; after all, I’d leftover 20 years ago. I really didn’t know what it meant to be a Clevelander (except that you apparently expect defeat when it comes to sports and spend 9 months complaining about the weather)

In my 2 years back home, I discovered a Cleveland that I’d never known before. One that people were proud of. I couldn’t believe how many transplants confessed that although they initially dreaded moving to Cleveland, they now never wanted to leave. I had a new appreciation for the suburb I grew up in, Shaker Heights: the beautiful architecture and the diversity that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The Cavs were winning. The Art Museum was being renovated. The Flats were hot again. You could live very comfortably here in a beautiful house in a neighborhood with exceptional schools that were walking distance for a fraction of what it would have cost us to live in NY.

But the biggest surprise for me was all the new friends I made. Friends who had grown up in Shaker but whose paths I’d never crossed. Friends from other parts of the country–all over the world–often who’d discovered thid gem of a city and had no plans to ever leave. I learned on my first move that you can make a friend anywhere; you just have to have an open heart and occasionally be the first one to say “hello.” And I’ve remained close with friends from previous moves.

But what made this different was that these friends had the same city in their hearts that I did. Some of them had the same 2 cities in their hearts after stints in NY. Even though I didn’t grow up with them, they immediately felt familiar. They filled an empty space in my heart that I didn’t know was there until they came into my life. My life and heart felt full.

I was surprised how much my children connected with this town too. My children were little when we moved to Cleveland: 3 children ages 4 and under. When we left, they were only 2, 5 and 7–still little. But they, too, had been impacted by our time in Cleveland. My family was a part of our daily lives…but never overstayed their welcome. They would pop in for an hour here or there and pick up wherever I had left off in my children’s’ lives.

My husband, who grew up in Denver and had lived a number of years in Boston and NY, said he, too, felt at home. He pointed out that although Cleveland is a big city, it feels like a small town. The community welcomed him with open arms and he confided to me, “I’m having one of the best times in my life. I love it here.”

But all good things come to end…or do they? My husband accepted a job in NY and we were on our way back to the place that had broken my heart to leave. But now my heart was breaking all over again. Initially I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to come to Cleveland. Now after less than 3 years in Cleveland, I was heading back to my second home, NY (the Jersey part anyway) and felt surprisingly sad about it.

My kids were heartbroken to leave. They loved their home, their school, and being near family. Through tears, I told them, “We’ll come back. I promise.” And we did. Not to live…but to summer. After all, doesn’t everyone summer in Cleveland!?

to be continued…

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Author: Heather Zachariah

Former Art Director for Home Magazine and Caribbean Travel & Life, Heather is chauffeur to 3 busy kids; the president of her Home and School Association; and VP of Marketing for TipsFromTown. And she's passionate about all 3!