I used to think that people were too good for this town, but now I’m realizing that this town is too good for some of the people.
Growing up in Cañon City, I had an understandable laundry list of complaints: the old, staunchly conservative population; the lack of “cool” hangout spots (no mall, a defunct roller rink/laser tag/teen club/arcade); the sometimes claustrophobic small town feel; the economy largely supported by prisons and tourism; the seeming impossibility of being genuinely successful or accomplished here.
When I was 18, I wanted nothing more than to leave this place. Seven (holy shit) years later, I can’t bare the thought of leaving.
After graduating high school, I moved to attend my dream school in a town the exact opposite of mine. To me, the People’s Republic of Boulder was some sort of liberal utopia – a place where I could finally speak my mind and be myself.
Boulder was a great learning experience for me, not just in the degree I earned from the University of Colorado, but in the personal growth I made in the five years I spent studying and working there. All those things I hated about my hometown didn’t exist in Boulder.
But of course, things are never that easy. In my second year as a young professional, my pretty little world began to crumble. My career was making me resent my alma mater. My morning commute into the city every morning was filled with dread instead of joy. My nights getting into bed with my boyfriend were increasingly filled with exhaustion at every aspect of my life.
June 2014 became a turning point when my relationship came to an abrupt and heartbreaking end. Confused and unhappy in almost every way, I felt my best option was to move back to Cañon.
It wasn’t ideal, obviously, but surely it wouldn’t be that bad. After all, whenever I would leave my parents’ house to return to my adopted “home,” I would quietly and uncontrollably cry as I made my drive back north.
My first half year back I was a ghost. I tried to act like I wasn’t even here. I stayed at home as much as possible, walked the other way when I saw someone I knew from my past and pretended I had a set date in mind for when I would once again leave this Godforsaken place. I didn’t even want to get a job, seeing it mostly as an opportunity to blow my cover.
Those times I did get cornered by some semi-familiar face, I had to recite my awkward speech. “Yeah, I actually did move away and go to college. I got a degree. I had a career. I wasn’t that happy. I’m trying to figure things out.”
No matter how blank my stare or how monotone my voice, people always had some sort of worthless advice. Surely I had never considered writing for a newspaper. I didn’t go to school for broadcast or marketing, but how could I possibly say no to anything at this point?
All those early thoughts of achievement had come crashing down. My happiness and mental wellbeing were my biggest concerns, but I couldn’t help but think that by moving home, I was a disappointment to my parents and my city. I was supposed to be a success story. I graduated from CCHS with a 4.0. I graduated college in three years. I got a job in my field right after graduation.
And where was I now? Aimless and living in my childhood room.
For the first time in my life, I felt genuinely lost. I was no longer striving for a certain goal. All that time I had spent trying so hard to prove something about my intelligence and worth was no longer paying off.
From a young age, I had always put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. I was constantly chasing my next success, but, to my astonishment, real life adulthood didn’t work like that. I was experiencing very few exciting or challenging milestones in my monotonous office life or monogamous relationship. And I really didn’t see how moving back in with mom and dad would present me with any challenges other than those to my psyche.
I had always seen potential in myself, but never in my surroundings. Maybe that was part of the problem. I thought that by moving away, be it at 18 or 24, I could become the person I deserved to be. Whatever that was even supposed to mean. I guess I envisioned a hard working sports writer prepared to do that for the rest of her life and to start a family at 27.
While pursuing these symbols of adulthood and the American Dream, I had lost sight of my actual passions. I had stopped writing for the sheer enjoyment of it. I was only spending time outdoors when I was working a soccer or lacrosse game. In trying to grow up, I was really just becoming stagnant.
Busy studying and working, I had almost forgotten there was a world outside of Boulder’s not-so-great indoors. The Flatirons were my everyday backdrop, and trailheads surrounded every turn of my drive, but I wasn’t giving myself the time to revel in them.
It wasn’t until I didn’t know my next step forward that I could finally take one. With time on my hands and no serious career hunting happening, I rediscovered myself in my own backyard.
I probably didn’t need Cañon to experience a breakthrough, though the change of location provided an added assist. This was the place where I had literally grown up, and after jumping quickly into “grown-up life,” maybe this was the perfect place to now simplify my life and embrace some childlike glee.
It started with finding comfort in what I had always loved about my town. All the little things I would try to squeeze in during my weekends home from college. Eating double doubles with ketchup and pickles at the Owl. Pushing myself to run on the dirt trails of the Riverwalk. Spending time in the Royal Gorge (looking down from its upper rim or gazing forward and upward by boat and by train).
After those trying first sevenish months back, I was finally finding my niche. I understood that I was taking Cañon for granted and being home really was what I needed.
I was meeting people in my age demographic who actually chose to make this place their home, even if it was just for the best months of the year.
In a university of nearly 30,000 students, I ended my college career with a baker’s dozen of new, lasting friendships. When I leave Cañon, I leave knowing I met people I want to spend the rest of my life with.
I genuinely believe that in my tiny town, I have met some of the best people I will ever know. People with the kind of ambition that isn’t propagandized. People with college degrees and families who still find exuberance in the little things and aren’t driven by materiality. I met these people because of a town I always thought I was too good for.
Because of these people, I was able to not only find comfort in where I was, but with who I was. They didn’t judge me for my makeup-less face or my crazy yoga pants. They thought I was beautiful. They never asked me to be anything I wasn’t, but allowed me to explore new territory and push my boundaries.
I used to let the things I didn’t like about Cañon define it. And I had been letting the things I didn’t like about my life define me. It wasn’t bad that I came from a small town. And it wasn’t bad that I’d had a challenging few years. It seemed to take an outsider perspective for me to see the grace in both.
Turns out there are plenty of breathtaking places in Cañon that I barely even knew existed. And turns out there are plenty of positive traits I have that I never really owned.
Sadly, “finding myself” doesn’t fit neatly on a resume. Realistically, a career as a journalist doesn’t exist for me here. So at 25, I once again move to the big city. This time with no pretences about being a grown-up or desires to pursue anything I don’t feel strongly in my heart.
As I plot my final carloads to Denver, I try to cherish every last moment I spend as a Cañon local.
I see the beauty around me as the light glimmers on the creek and the snow covers the red dirt that still cakes my shoes. The wind chills my skin as my partner pulls me closer, and I think, “I love this place. I never want to leave.” He takes my hand in his. I look up into his piercing eyes, and I think, “I love him. I never want to leave.”