I Returned to My Hometown After 20 Years Away

Here’s how it feels to be home.

Abandoned building with “God’s not dead” street art | Bakersfield, California © Lindsay Lonai Linegar 2020

I’ve been going on weekly coffee dates with my oldest niece. She told me something beautiful once. She said her mama taught her that it’s not where you live but how you live. I’m ready for this.

I returned to my hometown last October, after nearly 20 years of being away. I left this town in the last year of my teens, after meeting a blue-eyed surfer boy from Orange County. It has taken me all these 20 years to admit it was more of an escape than a thoughtful exodus.

When things fell apart with the surfer, I had no intentions of returning home. I had flown the coop, and I had no desire to go backwards. That was the beginning of a truly epic adventure involving three continents, a few love affairs, and plenty of travel scars.

Whether or not the entire journey was one big escape, it all led me in one clear direction — home. It led me back to myself. I will refrain from feeling embarrassed it took me this long. I will simply marvel at all I got to experience along the way. And surely, the journey to feeling at home with myself is not over.

But if you had asked me ten years ago whether or not I’d end up living in my hometown, I’d have looked at you funny. I never had any plans to return for good, though I had grown adamant about defending this little cow town of mine. Not so little anymore, 20 years later.

Californians who have nothing better to do like to make fun of Bakersfieldians for being born in the valley. I made up my mind long ago that I would show myself and the world the beauty of my home. It’s interesting to watch this unfold, now that I’m back.

24th Street & Chester Avenue, Downtown Bakersfield, California © Lindsay Lonai Linegar 2019

I learned how to see beauty while I was away. So now, I don’t do it out of anger, but habit. And that’s one thing I’m enjoying now that I’m home. I hear the words of T.S. Eliot often, as I wonder at how new it all seems, even the old things. He said, “…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My hometown hasn’t changed all that much. The population has almost doubled since I left, which means the infrastructure has expanded and old drive-in movie theaters have been replaced with modern business centers. Winters are still foggy, and summers are still fiery. Bakersfield has grown, sure, but so have I. Of the two of us, I’ve probably changed the most.

I’m not saying I’ve changed completely out of pride, but mostly out of confusion. We’re all bound to do some serious growing in 20 years time. What I’m finding so interesting now that I’m home are the feelings that creep up on me and leave me dumbfounded. Feelings like,

Gosh it feels good to be settled.

Why can’t I seem to feel nostalgic anymore?

How’s it possible for me to feel so content in a place I never imagined returning to?

I haven’t felt this at peace, since, well, maybe ever.

Could it be? Will this last past novelty? Am I happy to be home?

I don’t really know the answers to all my questions. What I do know is that I’m feeing more able to be somewhere I’ve been trying to get to for a long time — light-spirited. I don’t mean this in the cheery way but rather in the way I feel freer than I ever have.

One by one, the dark layers have been lifting from my spirit since I returned. I feel myself sinking into the present, deeper and deeper. I feel myself embracing the everyday, beautifully mundane things that make up a life. I feel myself able to look inward for contentment, and I can imagine being able to transfer that outward, to others.

When I was traveling the world, I gathered a list of things I needed to live well. This is a highly personalized list, so not all of the items apply to everyone. But in the depth of my sorrow and pain, as I struggled with loneliness and heartbreak and the death of idealism, I kept seeing what I needed in my mind’s eye.

You need to dance, Lindsay.

You need to walk a dog.

You need to breathe and stretch and be centered.

You need to be outside, and commune with nature.

You need to heal.

You need to create.

You need to love and be loved, fiercely.

It took me a long time to become brave and strong enough to start listening to myself. It’s a beautiful thing to witness myself turning those visions into reality. I don’t know that I needed to come home to realize my dreams, but I know I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be living them out, than here.

Since I returned, I have found myself wondering if I’ll ever travel again. I have become so good at traveling, I’ll make you believe I do it in my everyday life, within a 20 mile radius. And I do. And I will continue making an effort to travel this town, and its outskirts as often as I possibly can.

But when it comes to traveling farther, I’m not so sure. I’ve found myself wondering if the desire is even there anymore.

I know for sure that I want to see every inch of California. In fact, this is the traveling I’ve been the most passionate about since I returned to the United States. I’ve never felt so wildly fortunate and grateful to be from California. There’s enough exploring to do here, for many lifetimes.

But what about my desire to see the rest of the countries in Africa? Or the countries in South America I’d been wanting to visit? Or Norway? Or the remaining states I’ve yet to see in the USA? I don’t know the answers to these questions either.

What I think is that I’m finally ready to do the ultimate traveling. And the journey has just begun. Traveling well within myself feels unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s good to be home.

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Yoga teacher, adventurer, storyteller happily based in California 🌼

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Yoga teacher, adventurer, storyteller happily based in California 🌼

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