This week marks one year since I pulled into a Chattanooga hotel parking lot with all my worldly possessions, squinting to see in the dark and thrashing rain, having just driven the wrong way down a one-way street before caving in to exhausted tears.
Since then, my parents have occasionally remarked that they’re proud I took such a risk — moving to a new city not really knowing anyone, away from all family and friends, and having the first adventure I could really call my own. It never felt brave to me, or purposefully bold. It was just unmistakably time for something else, and I felt propelled out of Texas as much as choosing to leave it.
But often I forget that I hit the road with card catalog in tow and only the hope of a full-time teaching job. The contract wasn’t official until a bit later, and I could just have easily ended up selling pants to strangers or fetching a grouser’s coffee. Before moving I had visited the city only once, for 2 hours, getting lost more than actually seeing it. Moving to Chattanooga was, in fact, a real leap — totally unknown.
And no risk could have been more rewarding. My magic formula for a city love affair is friendliness + manageable size + trees/mountains + low cost of living + artistic charm, and Chattanooga offers it all by the canoe-load. Most mornings I go on sunrise walks across Veterans Bridge, marching along to Stephane Grappelli and grinning like a loon at the river below because I’M ALIVE, AND I’M HERE. Passersby smile and wave rather than pretending others don’t exist; the outdoor market is beautiful, rich in local produce and food trucks; there are independent bookstores and coffee shops of which Kathleen Kelly would most heartily approve.
It is an existence I could not have imagined before living it, a joy that in my early 20’s would have seemed as distant as cratered moon. What do you do after being handed the job, trees, and sweet tea of your dreams?
You gobble it up with a soup spoon for as long as it lasts. You send postcards. And when you’re old you look back and sigh to your seventeen cats, “My, wasn’t that a life to love?”