To my hometown,

This is an apology. I apologize for constantly wanting nothing more than to escape you.

It was here I took my first breath, said my first word, and took my first steps. It was here that I made friends, went to school, and truly experienced life. Every benchmark and milestone from my short 20 years has been here, yet somehow for as long as I can remember all I've ever thought about was getting as far away from you as possible. I don't know where my displeasure with you started, but I know I wasn't alone. I remember many discussions throughout middle and high school with friends always complaining, saying “I hate this place, and I can't wait to leave and never look back.”

We called you names and made condescending jokes about you. I could log into Facebook right at this very moment and find groups devoted to complaining about you, and even more statuses disrespecting you than I can count on one hand without even trying. I think we all have a tendency to blame the place we're at for the misfortunes we suffer while we're there, which is understandable, but not true. The things that happened here weren't your fault, but since this is where they took place you seemed like the best to blame at the time.

I can still remember many occasions where on long car rides I would open up the atlas kept in the backseat of our car. I would pick out places on the map that were as geographically far away from you as possible, and I would learn the names of the cities. I would pick whichever one sounded the most foreign and exotic or whichever one sounded like the biggest, and for the rest of the car ride, I would daydream about the life I could have there. I naively thought if I was away from you, all of my problems would just disappear.

Growing up the elders around me -- my grandparents, and many others told me many stories about what you used to be like, their history with you. They would tell me abut how much you've changed, or point out the places they used to spend time at back in the day. They'd talk to me and each other about the businesses that are no longer here, buildings that are no longer standing, and people that are no longer alive. Sometimes I found their conversations and stories interesting, but most of the time I would tune them out altogether. I could never grasp how anyone could be content with spending their entire lives here. I saw it as just a wasted life. I saw you as nothing more than a second class town that had too many potholes and criminals with not enough well mannered, driven, intelligent people. I'm sorry that I gave in to stereotypes and believed you weren't better than that.

As time went on, and I got older, I found myself spending more time focusing on leaving you, and where I was going to go when I did finally leave. As a high school senior, I checked out colleges not based on my interests, but based on their location. I took it as a personal challenge to see how far away from you I could get. One day, after talking to him about schools I was interested in, I distinctly remember my grandpa, who has devoted most his adult life to you by serving for over 30 years on the fire department and city council looking at me inquisitively and asking, “What is so wrong with here?” I had to think about how to word my response before finally settling with, “Everything. I hate everything about this place.” He looked at me with the smallest grin and simply said “You won't always feel that way.”

Time has passed from those days, and I've begun to see you a little differently. As my college move in date has so quickly arrived, and I'm preparing to finally do the leaving, I've been talking about forever, I'm thankful for you. I've found myself paying closer attention to you, and driving around your many miles and remembering my own personal history. Remembering all of the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. I've spent more time thinking back on the many days spent walking around you or the nights sitting with my friends in one of your beautiful parks. All of the fights, the laughs and the tears. I've thought about all of the places where I made some of the best memories and where I became the person I am today.

So as I leave you my sweet home town, I'm letting go of the feelings I used to harbor towards you, and I even want to say thank you. Thank you for making me who I am today. Thank you for giving me experiences that I will one day tell the next generation about just like the people before me. Thank you for giving me a place to dig my roots while I grow in whatever direction the Lord has in store for me in the future.

Thank you for not being all that bad.

Thank you for actually being great.

Thank you for being the place I know I will always call home.