I am a homebody, a reluctant traveler. I have no problem with new places; I just prefer to have my home with me wherever I go.
I have to admit, however, that one of my most interesting years many years ago still informs my writing in almost every way. In that year, I was displaced from settling into a home of my own.
My first upheaval that year was a move to Las Vegas from Denver. Up until the day I left, Colorado was all I knew as home. I left my roots and had to learn to live on my own. Moving to the desert from the mountains was as much of a life change as it was an aesthetic shock. I moved from the place of my own roots to a place where roots were not meant to grow.
In Las Vegas, I lived in a hotel for a month while my few belongings that offered a sense of home sat in an unknown storage unit. Living in a hotel forced me to get to know my surroundings. I quickly realized that a sense of home would be hard to find in such a transient place.
A month after moving to Las Vegas I spent the summer in Boston, a place deeply rooted in American history as well as generations of familial history for many who live there. The east coast was faster, manners were clipped to their barest minimum, everything seemed old and grand, and tradition was at the heart of everything. I was not a part of those traditions, so I watched as an outsider looking in. For most of the time I was paralyzed by awe at the different ways I was not used to, but that awe opened my eyes to the past to see the relevance of time in experience.
After the summer I returned to Las Vegas ready to settle down only to be called back to Denver to attend my grandmother’s funeral. I noticed when I arrived that my home had changed, not because it had changed but that I had. Everything was as I remembered it, but I was seeing it with new eyes. I learned while I was there that I was homesick, but I was no longer homesick for the life I had left. The feeling reached much deeper.
This feeling stuck with me as I returned to Las Vegas. For a few months I experienced Las Vegas as a tourist even though I happened to live there. Friends visited just about every weekend to take in the sights and entertainment. My experiences of that time showed me the side of the city as it was intended, as an escape from any sense of reality.
Not long into attempting to get acclimated, my father died. Another layer of who I was seemed to become hollow. I had to leave again to bury him in his hometown, an old factory town tucked away in the Berkshire Mountains. I saw the factories my grandparents worked in had long since been abandoned. I met people that I had never met, but they knew my family so by extension they felt they knew me. I heard stories I had never heard and looked into the eyes of people who held their own vision of who my father was, which was different from mine.
After the death of my father, I finally settled down in my new home in Las Vegas. This time, however, the lights had lost their transfixing shine and my view behind the façade was uninhibited. I saw the flip side of the escapist mentality the city was built on. I saw the people wanting something deeper in a place void of meaning.
During that year I saw the effects place had on humanity; I saw it in myself and in others. I felt how pulling up my own roots and feeling lost found things deep in me that I didn’t know were there. I felt the importance of my own family history and where I came from. What struck me the most through it all were the people that wanted connection and a sense of home as much as I did.
I lived out of my comfort zone and grew because of it. Being displaced and navigating new environments turned my skin inside out so I felt everything I encountered in new ways. Getting away and seeing the differentness of other places illuminated the sameness in us all, just expressed in unexpected ways. The sense of being lost, the people I met, even the opposing topographies of each place from that year have woven themselves into who I am. All the differentness I experienced that year still lurks in everything I write.
Derra Larsen is a writer based in Frisco, Texas. She has a BA in English with a creative writing emphasis from Colorado State University. In 2013 she completed her Masters of Liberal Studies in creative writing from Southern Methodist University. Derra is married and has twin daughters who will soon be turning nine.