Far Beyond Kentucky

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

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| This is the 173rd story of Our Life Logs |

My life began in the small town of Morgantown, Kentucky in 1992. If you are wondering what it was like, just picture farmland, connected to more farmland, all serving as the resting place for groups of horses and wooden fences. The rolling hills in the distance gave a sense of remoteness, and confinement—as if the only life was inside the grassy walls. I grew up in this town with my loving parents, and made many friends who I would chase and be chased by in the fields.

At 13, my family and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky where I lived up until college. I was a shy, nerdy girl who (by then) preferred reading fantasy books about wizards and adventures to making new friends. While reading, I could really go places, even if I hadn’t been out of Kentucky for more than a few family vacations.

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While I was in college at Northern Kentucky University (just a few hours away from home), I had the option to take a Harry Potter themed class where I could practically live out what had been sealed inside my head for so long. I was such a huge nerd that “no” was not even an option! It just so happened that this class was taught in London, England and I would have to study abroad for this magical experience.

I thought, why not?

When I stepped off the plane 2013, I really did experience magic—not from the books I brought with me, no. This magic was right in front of me! The cobblestone streets, the bustling civilians on their morning commutes, Big Ben, and food that sent my taste buds singing.

I had seen hundreds of pictures, I had watched dozens of international films, and yes, I had been known to use Google Maps from time to time. But to live and breathe in a brand-new place was just so awesome. Before I got on the plane to return home, I was bit by the “travel bug”—for which there is no cure.

Visiting Harry Potter Studios in London, England in 2013.
Visiting Harry Potter Studios in London, England in 2013.
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The next year, I took a study-abroad trip to Cuba. Wow! What a place! Every vibrant color and whiff of salt water was nothing like London, and nothing like Morgantown. This made me wonder, what else was out there? What else could I see? When I got back from that trip, I decided I would finish my degree, and immediately return to Europe to explore some more.

I started saving up every penny I earned. I knew I was going to Europe next, but I had no idea exactly where I would stay, or how long I would be there—but it didn’t really matter because the uncertainty didn’t scare me. Instead, I awaited the promise of something new.

At the time, I had been dating a guy named Michael who was living in Louisville, Kentucky. I told him about my dreams while he listened with a kind heart. My mind was so focused on travel, and I was afraid that our relationship might crumble if I wasn’t able to go where the wind blew. So, I gave him an ultimatum. Either come along with me, or let’s take a break. Turns out, he had the same thirst for travel as me (I don’t know if I could have dated someone without) and agreed. What a relief!

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After graduation in 2014, I went back to Louisville, with a backpack full of necessities and aspirations. Problem was, I couldn’t say the same for Michael. He had saved just $300 and didn’t even have a backpack!

That was tough. I had made up my mind months ago, I was going to Europe. Without really thinking, I cut things off with Michael, and went to Europe alone. Nothing was going to get in the way of another fantastical adventure!

Well, four days later, the adrenaline wore off and the consequence of my hasty decision sunk in. The buildings and landscapes looked duller without someone to walk beside. I missed Michael. I missed laughing and smiling and sharing jokes. I wrote him a long letter telling him I’d made a mistake, but he gave a harsh reply and was still mad and hurt. What had I done?

Well, one impulsive decision later, and I was on his doorstep with no money (the immediate flight back to the US was expensive) and a hundred reasons why I was sorry. No use. I had been rejected in this country too.

Defeated, I stayed in Louisville with my parents (now that I was broke), waiting tables and pinching pennies so I could begin another trip. Eventually Michael sought me out. Our conversation was just a bunch of apologies on top of each other. In the end, we agreed that our relationship was just as important as our travel aspirations, so together, we saved up money all summer so that we could spend an entire year in a new place. We chose New Zealand because…well, why not? They spoke English and we could each get a work visa that would last a year. That was a good enough reason for me.

Michael and I about to leave for New Zealand, August 2015.
Michael and I about to leave for New Zealand, August 2015.
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But just as soon as we took in the majesty of New Zealand’s wild meadows, I received a phone call from my mother. “You need to come home immediately.” She said, “Your dad is in the hospital. We’ve already booked you a flight back.” My mom tended to be dramatic, so I asked a serious question I knew she wouldn’t dare over-dramatize.

“Is he dying?”

“Yes.”

Michael and I scrambled out of our hostel and beelined to the airport. We boarded the plane wearing shorts and thin shirts, clearly dressed for the New Zealand summer. But in the US, it was the dead of winter. By the time we landed and reached the hospital, it was the middle of the night, and my father died just hours later. I can’t even remember his last words.

Life is short, whether we live 50 years or 100 years. My father’s death made me wrestle with this fact. Within a month of being back in the soft hills of Kentucky, I knew I needed to make peace within myself.

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