“So, where are you from?”
To most people, this is a mostly harmless question that makes good conversation fodder after initial introductions, barring any other immediately pressing subjects like the weather or obvious facial deformities.
For me, it’s a loaded question to which the answer changes every other week depending on how I feel about any one of the four states that I’ve lived in for longer than a year. This usually turns into an overdrawn speech about all the places I’ve lived in an effort to paint myself as some sort of world-weary traveler instead of a jaded art school graduate who regrets a majority of the last five years of his life, which is much closer to the truth.
I was born in Illinois, grew up in Iowa, graduated high school in
Brownbackistan Kansas, did college and ruined my organs in New Mexico, and now currently reside in Colorado. I’m basically a troubadour of landlocked states. If you were to ask me where I was from anytime in the last four years, the one I was least likely to volunteer was Ankeny, Iowa, the place I spent my entire childhood and adolescent life. Self deception is funny that way.
My initial reasoning for shoving Iowa in the compost heap of my memory was simple: I was a dork. I barely socialized, I didn’t/couldn’t date, I got picked on, and (the cardinal sin in Iowa) I didn’t play any sports. Even when I went to Los Angeles to audition for film roles in junior high, it was still just another reason to make fun of me. Back then, I hadn’t directed kids or read Lord of the Flies, so I didn’t understand that kids are just piranhas that prey on the weak until they learn empathy as part of growing up. Such is the circle of life. But you don’t really have that kind of comprehensive world understanding when you’re sixteen (unless you’re Jaden Smith). So I was overjoyed at the concept of moving away to Kansas at the end of my sophomore year.
Not going to lie, my time in Kansas was pretty nice. I was relatively popular at my high school in Olathe, met my best friend, and even somehow got elected prom king. I still give credit to two football players running against me for splitting the actual Cool Kid vote.
For this reason, I always told my peers at (f)art school that I was from Kansas City. And even this wasn’t exactly true. I lived in Olathe, Kansas which was located twenty miles from downtown Kansas City and bore as much resemblance to KC as Alaska does to Daytona. But whatever sounds cooler, right? As a young art-douche in training I was surrounded by people from comparatively exciting places like Los Angeles, Austin, or New York who (at the time) I thought to be much more mature and worldly than lil’ ol’ Midwestern me. Therefore, I was Corbin Albaugh: Actor From Kansas City. And that was my line from the time I arrived in 2010 to when I left at the end of last year.
It wasn’t until two or three years later that I slowly realized that all these people I was trying to impress were just as insecure and full of bullshit as I was, but by then it was a little late to do a Wikipedia edit on my biography. And, as any actor will tell you, if you repeat a line enough it starts to become reality. As time wore on, I started to believe my own bullshit. Kansas City and even Santa Fe became the place where I thought my identity was forged. Ankeny, the place where I had spent almost my entire life, became a subjective footnote in my personal history. Childhood: Gone. Relatives: Gone. Old friends: Gone. Locked in a mental basement next to my old stuffed animals and Power Ranger VHS tapes.
By the time I finally got the flying fuck out of Fe-iry Land and re-entered the real world in Colorado, I was starting to realize the giant zero value that my personal life was worth. Most of the friends, experiences, and time I spent in Santa Fe feels false. Like I spent five years playing a role that I became just plain fucking tired, physically and emotionally, of playing. That the things I did while I was there weren’t done by me, but by someone else that just happened to look and sound like me. And when you’re looking back on your college years with disappointment and nausea, you realize that you may have possibly led yourself astray into the ashtray.
A family tragedy brought my family back to Iowa midway through 2014, and since then there’s been a strong commitment on our part to revisit that part of our lives and reconnect with the people and place that we left behind. It’s fitting that I took my first trip with them at the very beginning of this year, nine hour drive and hangover be damned. I want this year to be both a return to myself as a person and a return to enjoying life again without the help of mind altering substances and green chile. Coming back home was exactly what I needed, because I realized that I actually do have a home and identity. I just wasn’t returning its texts.
There’s no urge within me to pick up all my stuff and move back to Iowa. I have a career in the arts, after all. However, there’s something to be said about knowing that there is a place that actually knows and understands you. Not a town where you know the street layout or what restaurants are the best or which businesses are secretly drug fronts, but a place where practically every square mile has some sort of history that’s relevant to you. Where you can see aunts and uncles who have known you from the time you couldn’t even form sentences and can now talk to like peers. With friends you have’t seen in years who have gotten married, taken responsible jobs, became real fucking adults doing real fucking adult things, and you don’t have to deal with the pageantry of “catching up” and can just pick up right where you left off like you were gone for summer vacation.
I can’t say that about my high school in Olathe or the
cacti campus in Santa Fe. Even here in Colorado, the White Person Capital of the World, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I feel like a tourist with a bed here. I like it here, but I don’t know a damn thing about it and it doesn’t know or give a damn about me. And I’m not asking it to do that, because I realize now that there’s already a place that does that. And no matter what bullshit anyone tries to feed you about how home is wherever you make it, there’s only one of those places for everyone. It only took me eight years to understand that. Anyway, that’s my piece. We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled internet hatred next week. Cheers to the new year. Here’s to a new start.