Coming home (Part 4)

Starting all over again in Harrisonburg

This was written in 2011 but I never posted it. 

I moved to Taiwan in 2004 after I graduated from college. I was going to teach English for a year and then come back to the States to find work. One year turned into five, and then I moved to Shanghai to work as an editor. After a year there—and three years without going home—I moved back to the States to start all over again. This series of posts was written in commemoration of the anniversary of my life in this new town. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.


I rented the first and only place I looked at just a few days before my first day of work. It was a room above a bar. I knew it was above a bar, but the property manager assured me that it was never very noisy and none of the previous tenants had ever had a problem. I figured that in a small town like Harrisonburg, the local pub would never really get rowdy enough to be a problem.

Except for the giant cedar chest that my sister helped me put in the car and some nice guys from the bar downstairs helped me take out, I moved everything in by myself. By that point, I had accumulated enough stuff—clothes, books, and household goods—that it took two trips back and forth to Pittsburgh to move myself.

Even with a loan from my brother, I had only just enough to pay the first month’s rent and the deposit on the new place. I got some canned goods from my mother and a large bag of coffee beans from my grandmother. The first couple of weeks in town were a rigorous test in budgeting: I was literally living on Ramen noodles, vegetables, and cans of soup I hadn’t even bought for myself. I refrained from making my usual efforts to make friends right away because I couldn’t afford dinner and drinks. I spent most nights and the first few weekends holed up in my room watching Hulu shows on a public internet connection that timed out every fifteen minutes.

The bar turned out to be the liveliest place in town, so my floor rumbled and shook from 5 p.m. til 2 a.m. every night. I looked into it and found out that it had only been open for about a year, and the woman who’d lived in that room before I moved in had spent every night at her boyfriend’s place. No wonder there had never been a complaint! I was sleeping on an air mattress and my books were neatly organized in cardboard boxes that I’d stacked as makeshift shelves. There was no barrier between me and the best of the nineties alternative music rocking downstairs.

Those first few weeks in town were extremely confusing. I finally had to admit to myself that I wasn’t going back to Shanghai or Taiwan any time soon. As hard as it had been, I was building a life for myself and I was going to be okay. Time was marching on, and like it or not, I had fallen into step with it.Eventually, the paychecks started coming in and I could afford to buy big, lovely bags of groceries. Olive oil and dill pickles and strawberries had never been so luxurious. Then I had to pay back my brother and all the other bills that had started to pile up.

Eventually, with enough complaining, the property managers let me out of the lease and I moved in with a co-worker who lived down the street.It was then that I decided I had to start dating again. I could tell that I wasn’t going to meet anyone outside my circle of coworkers unless I was intentional about it, so I looked online. I planned to meet a few people, try some casual dating, and eventually select a suitor. Except J was the first man I agreed to meet and that was it. We spent our first date talking about what we wanted for the future and every day and night since then working toward it.

Epilogue: I lost the job, after two miserable years, but without it I wouldn’t have met J and without him I wouldn’t be on the path we share today. What can I say? After all these years, I don’t think “fate” really exists–even if we’re enjoying a perfect state of affairs, our lives are always changing–but I can’t help but think that in the big picture, I came here for J, not the job, and everything else that came before was just a wave pushing me toward him. 

2 thoughts on “Coming home (Part 4)”

  1. I just found your blog and I love it! I think we have a lot in common and this post definitely rang true for me. I was also raised living in a variety of places (missionary kid), then I went to teach English in S. Korea after college, and have since married and continued to travel and move around trying to figure out the right place and thing. We just moved back to Harrisonburg so that my husband could start a solar company. So we are here indefinitely now. Thanks for sharing your story. It isn’t often that I meet someone who understands that kind of life. I don’t know if I’ll ever shake it, it is just a part of me. You sound the same way. Keep up the good work on the blog! 🙂

    1. Oh my word, did we just become best friends?! That is insane how close your life story parallels mine. My husband and I just got married, but we’re leaving Harrisonburg in October to go (back) to Taiwan. We want to travel a lot, but I know that there are drawbacks to this lifestyle, too. I am excited, but also nervous!

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