I was driving home today, which is miles away from the route of the 61B I normally take between my favorite coffee shop and my traditional double. My windows were down and my music was on--it’s never off--and I was singing along to one of my favorite bands as if I wrote their lyrics the moment they left my mouth.
I’m not used to singing out loud while the trees outside are blurry. 
I’m not used to traveling at sixty miles an hour in solitude.
And as this new reality dawned on me--this new reality of living where I came from--these lyrics slipped out of my mouth:

 “My roots have grown, but I don’t know where they are.”

I have sung these words a thousand times, and have heard them a thousand and one. I sang along and immediately realized that I could have written them as they left my mouth.

“My roots have grown, but I don’t know where they are.”

I didn’t realize it until an email in my inbox told me I could no longer return to the place I was living. For the past seven months, I have existed in a city that was like concrete to me. It may have been because it is mainly concrete (it has a city bus system, of course it’s all concrete). But, perhaps, it may have been because I didn’t know where to grow. I didn’t know where to tell my roots to delve. 

Why did I think that was a power I had? They were always going to span throughout the base of my footprints, even if they had to do it behind the back of my own conscience.

My roots sunk into the ground the first night I stood on the mountaintop that overlooks Pittsburgh. I stared at the cotton candy sky and its reflection on the river, and my roots penetrated the Earth. I spent my first night in my half-decorated dorm room, and my roots dug deeper, even as I slept. And when I woke up to the realization that I had to leave the fan on all night if I didn’t want to wake up to sweat stains on my t-shirts, my roots still grew. They grew through my slippers as I stood in my doorway, not even a minute after I turned nineteen, witnessing my friends absolutely obliterate their reverence for quiet hours. They were celebrating my existence that night, or morning, rather. They were celebrating my roots, my growth since the day I was born. And even in my own doorway, I thought they’d have to yell a lot louder if they wanted to celebrate the parts of me that were supposedly anchored to soil that was 892 miles away. 

What tethers you is what actually matters, right? Where you invest your passion is where you draw the bulk of your identity? That’s what I thought last December when I boarded an airplane out of Pennsylvania with anticipation so rampant I could burst. But I realize now, after reading that email that forbids me from boarding an airplane back, that I was only excited to leave because my roots knew their elasticity. They have always been able to stretch for 892 miles at the least, even when I thought they were confined to one zip code. They have always known their adaptability, even when I thought they could only be planted once. 

With every major life decision, I am accompanied by the urging reassurance that I will in fact grow where I am planted. It’s just the natural assumption that regardless of my light source or the nutrients in the soil around me, I will indeed grow. Regardless of how violently my roots were ripped out of a toxic location, because you know they weren’t mindfully dug up in their entirety, I will still grow to my fullest potential. Even concrete will crack for my chance at a livelihood. I just need to trust that the roots I have beneath me can latch on the way they have throughout my whole life.

But are they solely beneath me? Do I have to look for footprints before I can begin the excavation of my essence? Or are they beaming from my eyes when I look at the canals in Amsterdam? Do they stir in my mouth as I eat my aunt’s home-cooked meals?

It doesn’t take an anthropologist to notice the way trees grow through houses and intertwine themselves with fence posts. I don’t need a shovel to look up to the ivy on the walls of the loneliest alleyways and most expensive cafes.

I’m starting to think that this metaphor is skewed by the natural properties of the subject matter--by the very properties that we credit roots for having. Sure, it’s possible to uproot a tree and plant it somewhere else. I think about that everytime I take a cab down Sunset Boulevard through the idealized skyline of the imported palms. They didn’t grow where they were planted, they grew where they were placed, and I guess that’s similar enough. But people are different in the sense that they can never truly dig roots out of holes they have already dug themselves. I’m latched to the Eiffel Tower, even though I only picniced under it for an evening or two. I’m rooted in that best friend who turned on me overnight, and all of the pain that came with it. We may have never made eye contact again, but my roots are still firmly aware of the night we spilled an entire bowl of flour on the kitchen floor while trying to bake a cake for our Spanish class.

So, here I am. Back in the place where I was planted a mere nineteen years ago. Feeling tension on one of my roots that was recently planted 892 miles away. For a city made of concrete, I sure received what I needed to grow: the most water and sunlight that an art degree could offer. I’m still a part of that skyline, standing tall next to others who have idealized their roads ahead. And now I get to return to different roads lined with cypress trees, whose roots have never felt the brush of air. And I get to feel tension from a different end. 

This will be good. This will all be okay. I have already been planted here, and I will continue to grow.

*Song lyrics are quoted from The Head and the Heart's "Cats and Dogs". They are a lovely band. Give them a listen.


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