Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same

When I left Charleston to travel around Asia for six months and then move to San Francisco, I didn't think I'd be away long. I figured I'd hop a cheap flight back sometime soonish, see all my friends, hit up my old haunts. But now here we are just shy of two years later, and I haven't been back since Sean and I drove that big old U-Haul down our street on a blistering June morning, waved, wept, and were gone. 

I have to be in Orlando for work next week, and when I first heard about this particular business trip, my immediate thought was that I'd finally be in the Southeast corner of the United States again, and hey, if I was going to be in the South anyway, why not take a little side trip to Charleston as well?

It was a rather rash decision, and it suffers from several downsides, including an inordinate number of flight connections---I will be taking six planes in five days, please accept my apologies for ruining the planet---but I'm leaving on a red-eye tomorrow night and spending the weekend in Charleston before hoofing it down to Orlando on Monday morning. My flight from Charleston to Orlando leaves at 5:30am, and I'd like you to think about that for a second, just think about what time that means I have to get up in order to be at the airport at HALF PAST FOUR IN THE MORNING, a time I haven't seen since college, and that was through beer goggles because I hadn't been to bed yet, so that doesn't count.

I'm going to be honest with you: I'm nervous about going back. I'm so nervous about going back, in fact, that I've done a few ridiculous things, like scheduling not only a pedicure---fine, fair enough, no biggie---but also a SPRAY TAN for Friday after work, and if you don't think me getting a spray tan is the most hilarious thing ever, I'm not sure what to tell you. (A spray tan! Oh my god! I'm going to end up like Ross!) Every time I see "5:30pm---SPRAY TAN" written in my planner, I crack up like a five year old who's just heard someone say boobs, because what? I booked myself a spray tan? Because I'm going to Charleston? What am I thinking?

Well, I'll tell you what I'm thinking: I'm thinking I was a different person when I left. I was a person who went to a lot of fancy parties and wore a lot of nice dresses and got a lot of free beauty products in the mail. I was a person who was put together, well-accessorized, primped and preened. I wore heels to work every day and I knew a lot of people. I was 26 when I left, and I'm 28 now, and while it it might not seem like much of a difference, the gulf between those two ages---those two points in my life, the way I feel about certain things---is like the damn Grand Canyon sometimes. (Also: these days I have wrinkles.)

So when I land in Charleston on Saturday morning---after four hours of bumpy sleep on a plane to D.C., a layover at what will be 3am to 5am for me, and then another flight to Charleston---I'm going to be landing as a person who's grotty and grungy, a person who has a row of fabulous skirts in her closet but doesn't ever wear them anymore, partly because of the San Francisco chill, but mostly because of the fact that a girl can't even wear her Fancy Jeans to dinner out here without rumors starting that she's overdressed for the occasion. It doesn't help my case, either, that my most stylish and glamorous Charleston friend, Pretty Coworker Elle (remember her?) is picking me up at the airport.

And yet, it's not that, though---not really anyway. There's more to these nerves than the fact that my nails might not be properly varnished---or varnished at all, whoops, should have booked a manicure---or that my purse not might match my shoes, or that I might slip up in some other way I'd forgotten was so important in the South. It's something else. It's the feeling that Charleston might not be just as I've left it after all.

I have this rule about restaurants and the rule is this: if I've had a spectacular meal there, I can't go back. Doesn't matter how great it was, doesn't matter what occasion it's for: I've learned, through trial and error, that it's never as good as the first time. Your expectations are raised, your spirits are high, you think "this is going to be just as amazing as it was before." And it never is, of course. Well, of course! It never will be.

And so sometimes I think maybe I just shouldn't go back to the cities and countries I've left either---and I've left a lot of them---because all I'm doing is setting myself up for disappointment. Things change. Buildings crumble. People move. The world keeps going without you whether you're there or not, and in the end, all you can really do is keep going with it, keep moving forward, keep looking ahead. And perhaps turn around once or twice just to wave.

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1
Patrick
May 09, 2008

I had a fabulous time at a restaurant once, and ended up getting a job there. I lasted a month--boy was *that* a mistake.

Have a blast! I'm betting you have a blast, and will be happy you visited.

2
Jules
May 09, 2008

As someone who moved around the country 10 times before I was 22 because of my father's job and my own relocations after college, I know EXACTLY what you're going through. I still have friends in all 10 of those places, and it's a strange thing to visit once I've left a place behind emotionally; just like seeing old boyfriends in a random grocery store.

I've always found that no matter how I might try to make myself over outwardly to suit the geography before I arrive, that once I get there and re-join my friends everything falls into place internally regardless of the things I went through in preparation beforehand.

You're still going to be the person you are now, with the benefit of earned wisdom and gained perspective; in addition to your professionally 'done' toenails and a spray tan. Enjoy your trip. You can love the Charleston of the past and the Charleston of the present in different ways. Think of it as South Carolina 2.0.
Jules
House of Jules

3
Marguerite
May 09, 2008

I know the feeling, unless I go back and forth between places on a regular basis, the old-vs-new thing is always a bit daunting with places.
As for the restaurant rule, I have the same one about books. I can't re-read books that I thought were truly fantastic, books that shaped the way I think (I am not going to tell you which ones, because then I'd feel like the person in school always smiling/laughing at the mention of important names. I used to call this mimic-name dropping!).However, more and more, I have broken this rule and have mostlyy been rewarded by the experience.
Maybe the same will hold true for travels... Enjoy your trip!

4
Taylor
May 09, 2008

I left Charleston last September for Boston and I've got that same sense of dread about going back for a visit. I loved Charleston SO MUCH that I'm kinda afraid I'll be disappointed if I go back.

5
Em
May 09, 2008

Aw, I liked that. I have been thinking about things along the lines of your last paragraph a lot lately.

I hope you have a lovely trip.

6
Raven
May 09, 2008

I get what you are saying and to a certain extent feel the same way although, I have found only one exception and that's Sedona. When I go back home, it's always so different, I can't help but marvel at what once was; I point out what used to be where and how all my old haunts have changed. I find it fascinating and sad at the same time.

Sedona is always the same somehow, the beauty of the red rocks make me feel comforted and like I'm truly home. No matter how much things have changed in the valley, if I can get to Sedona, I always feel better.

Maybe you can do that, look for that one thing that says Charleston to you? That way the other changes won't seem so jarring and such a let down?

7
suz
May 09, 2008

I moved from Charleston a WHOPPING 120 miles up to Columbia on February 29, and just went back a couple of weekends ago. Driving in on I-26 in North Charleston, I suddenly got emotional and a little anxious. I have a raging, torrid love affair with Charleston, and I felt nervous like I do when I haven't seen someone I'm crazy about in a long time.

It was fabulous though.

I'm sure your trip will be too!

(I also had the wardrobe/beauty maintenance concerns..Columbia is so different, I was worried I wasn't fabulous enough for Charleston after only 6 weeks away!)

8
Camels & Chocolate
May 09, 2008

4:30 am, ugh. Sarah makes me get up nearly that early to go running! =)

Good luck with the spray tan -- I'll forever think of Ross, too, when it comes to spray tans. And I propose a Lovely Ladies Who Dress Up night out when you return, so we can all take advantage of the pretty things in our closets that are rapidly collecting dust.

9
Quyen
May 09, 2008

Everytime I go home to visit my family in Texas I have a week worth of appointments before the trip: mani/pedi, waxing, hairstylist for color, tanning and shopping. The south just demands that kind of upkeep.
Thank goodness I live in Chicagoland now. I can rollout of bed go to the grocery store without a thought about my appearance.

10
Sam
May 09, 2008

I think you're thinking WAAAAAAY to far into it. Have fun in Charleston.

11
NothingButBonfires
May 09, 2008

Camels and Chocolate, I don't have to GET UP at 4:30am, I have to BE AT THE AIRPORT at 4:30am! Which means I have to leave at 4am, which means I have to get up at....oh, I can't even think about it.

12
Rachel
May 09, 2008

As someone who has lived in the same city all her life, I can't exactly relate to your feelings. But, from a rational, non-emotive point of view, I like commenter Jules' idea of thinking of it as Charleston 2.0.

P.S. I actually just left this comment to ask if you've ever heard the musician Bon Iver? He's from Eau Claire, Wisconsin (what up Wisconsin!) and for some reason I felt like you might like him. I don't usually make music recommendations to strangers, but you should check out his song "Skinny Love".

13
NothingButBonfires
May 09, 2008

Rachel, that's crazy: I've been listening to Skinny Love on repeat for the past three weeks! Only on the MySpace page, though; have been too cheap to pay the 99 cents to download it. If you think the album is worth it, maybe I'll splurge.

14
kat
May 09, 2008

as long as you don't count mississippi-ly you'll be fine for the spray tan.

i think going back will be fantastic. it'll be like "i totally forgot about this! and this! and wow!"

15
Emily
May 09, 2008

I suppose this means I can never visit the south, because there's no way I can prod and pinch and annoint myself with products enough to fit in. I almost never even wear makeup. I guess growing up on the West Coast and living in a mountain state will do that to a girl.

I hope you have a wonderful time in Charleston, and I agree with Jules, just look at it as Charleston 2.0.

(Also, it was great to meet you at Leah's party. I promise I'll comment sometimes now!)

16
Heddie
May 09, 2008

Holly, I'm here, in Charleston, right now. And I can tell you — it's better than ever.

Just be sure to take deep breaths of the delicious salt-coated air and remember that there are precious few places left in this world that truly never change, and Charleston is one of them.

(And P.S. -- it'll be 90 degrees tomorrow, and the random pre-summer thunderstorms have been amazing, so you may want to bring a raincoat to throw over those party dresses :)

17
Moose
May 09, 2008

Pshaw. They will be blown away by your fabulous shoes and your Covergirl Lip Slicks.

18
Shannen
May 09, 2008

Ha! I totally remember the lovely co-worker Elle! Funny...take pictures! Have fun, relax...I totally would've gotten a spray tan too :)

19
Gretchen
May 09, 2008

If it were me, I'd just hold onto my funky SF bohemian self and show up that way. Nothing makes you interesting like being exotically unlike everyone else (although you don't need the help really).

Although I do understand the "gracious Southern living" concept, don't worry about blending in with the natives. You're not a Southerner anymore; you're a jet-setting citizen of the world.

20
Jen
May 09, 2008

hm, I've visited Charleston twice and both times it was awesome. So maybe it will be okay :) Good luck with the spray tan today, I HOPE you don't end up like Ross! lol

21
Rachel B.
May 09, 2008

I don't know, Holly. Every now and again, you go back to the restaurant/city/etc and it's even BETTER than the first time... in ways you couldn't even have imagined because now you are coming at life from a different lens.

Hope you have a wonderful trip.

22
Cheryl
May 09, 2008

Hi Holly,

None of that prettying up prep work is necessary for Orlando. 2 days of glamour and then shorts and sandals and maybe brushing your hair. Wait until you see the way people walk around MCO - sweaty from theme parks, wet from waterparks, sandy from the beach. Enjoy the beauty of Charleston while you can!

Have a safe trip!

23
jennysays
May 09, 2008

don't worry, basil is still delicious.

24
metalia
May 09, 2008

You're going to post pictures of you with your new spray tan, right? RIGHT? Have a great trip, Holly!

25
Jessica
May 09, 2008

Charleston is all about looking really good, all the time, without looking like you made an effort at all.

That is the hardest kind of look to me.

26
Meredith
May 09, 2008

I know exactly how you feel because I go through the same thing every single time I go back to Charleston. It really is hard to explain. I also had to take that horrendous flight at 5:30am out of Chas last year, too, ugh. Good luck. I know it will be just as fabulous as you remember. It always is.

27
Katherine
May 10, 2008

I think I know exactly what you mean. After a year and a half of living in the near-arctic, I'm traveling home this summer for the first time. I've changed my hair, my clothes, and (part of) my outlook on things since I've been here, and now face the conundrum of whether I should try to adopt a semblance of what I looked like 1.5 years ago(but a better! version!) or cut some more hair off and dye it a shocking red.

28
Diane
May 10, 2008

I think Jules is right - Charleston 2.0 is the best way to look at your visit. You will have a fab time and as you take your tired self to the airport at that unspeakable hour, you will think to yourself "I had a great time!"

Have a great visit!

29
familyonbikes
May 10, 2008

I can totally relate. I moved away from Boise when I was 17, and moved back when I was 45 - what a shock! In a lot of ways I was disappointed because, in my mind, I was going back "home". I could tell myself intellectually that "home" resided only in my mind, but I still expected everything to be like it was as I was growing up - as irrational as that thought was. In the end, I've made peace with the changes, but I won't say it was easy.

Now I'm getting ready to do it again - I'll be pedaling through Honduras as we ride our bikes from Alaska to Argentina. I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras way back the 80's but haven't been there since. I'm sure it's change dramatically - and I'm sure I'm prepared for it. That being said, I can't wait to get there!!

You can read about our family adventure on two wheels at www.familyonbikes.org

30
sara
May 12, 2008

But see that's the great thing about Charleston it never really changes. Every time I go back I get so swept up in the very Charlestonish of it all I forget to be nervous. A couple of cocktails and a moment in the blistering humidity and you'll be fine.
Oh and to Suz-I live in Columbia now too and seriously with the fashion. I have things in my closet that my friends tell me I can't wear here. What's up with that?

31
Beth
May 13, 2008

It is GORGEOUS here today!! A random cold front came through so the sweat won't be rolling down the back of your knees - such a refreshing change for this time of year! But there is a 20% chance of rain over the weekend.
You're going to be so happy to be back!
Several new restaurants have opened over the last few years... I highly recommend Cordavi(esp if you can get someone else to pick up the tap - it's waaaay overpriced, but soooo good!), it's at the far end of Market St, next to where Your Place used to be... Cupcake on King (get the choc/raspberry) and Sugar on Cannon (the almond tart and the ginger/molasses cookie)are also YUMMO!
Happy Travels! Hope all your flights are on time! (except of course if you are running late!)

32
Raybelle
May 14, 2008

I've only just moved to Charleston a few months ago, but I have resisted the peer pressure to look perfect all the time. Granted, I am insanely jealous of all of the cute outfits that I simply cannot afford (my money goes to my mortgage). Hope you had fun on your trip!

33
Patrick in Japan
May 20, 2008

Let me get this straight: you went through all of this to visit Charleston the weekend BEFORE Spoleto? Wowsers. That must've stung. I'll admit to missing it a little bit this time of year. But in Osaka, I can wear my Fancy Jeans anytime and nobody gives me a second look. Of course, nobody ever gives me a second look, so I'm not sure what that proves.

Incidentally, I'm not the Patrick who commented first on this post. But I do know this comments section isn't big enough for the both of us. High noon in front of the saloon, cowpoke. Be there.

34
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