I can't tell you when I learned to hate the place I was from. I can't pinpoint one moment in time where I decided there had to be more than Oklahoma. I just know that for 18 years, while I was grateful for the friends and experiences it brought me, I wanted out. I obsessed over study abroad programs before I even submitted my college applications. I lamented over being associated with a red state.
My parents, both originally from Tulsa, relocated back to their hometown from San José, California, shortly after my younger sister was born. I often found myself wondering how they could have given up beautiful northern California for…this.
I knew Tulsa objectively wasn’t the worst place to live, but I couldn't relate to the hometown pride for "T-Town" that so many Tulsans had. Downtown Tulsa houses a variety of restaurants, entertainment venues and a generally pleasant arts and culture scene. It took a few years for Tulsa to grow into this (downtown Tulsa felt fairly dormant in the earliest years of my living there), but even though downtown usually promised a good time, I was usually half an hour away from this in south Tulsa and only saw it on weekends.
My suburban upbringing warped my view of Tulsa, replacing what made Tulsa’s downtown somewhat unique with the everyday streets and sounds that made it hard to distinguish south Tulsa from any other American suburb. For this, I resented it.
Nevertheless, I "got out." Crossing state lines to go to school in Kansas wasn't exactly the trek of a lifetime, but I was still thrilled to embark on something new. After graduating from high school, I excitedly packed up my things and got ready to start my time at KU. Lawrence wasn't new to me either—my grandparents live here, and throughout high school I'd already started to form an idea of what it would be like to live here too—but it wasn't Oklahoma. Although my freshman year was by no means a seamless transition, I never once found myself wishing I could go back.
I spent the next three years only visiting home on breaks and living in Tulsa for one more summer for an internship that I had wished was somewhere else. I even went to Australia for a couple of months, which is just about as far from Oklahoma as you can get. I formed a relationship with Lawrence and started to think of it as home. I was out of the town where I grew up, and I wasn't mad about it.
Then, the pandemic happened.
No one was really sure what would happen after spring break last year. I thought maybe I'd have a few weird weeks in my apartment, and everything would go back to normal. I'd been back in Tulsa for a few days when we found out KU was extending its spring break, and my parents started to wonder if I should stick around for a while longer. I dismissed my family's concerns that I should stay at home and was determined not to quarantine there. It would be like high school all over again; I was sure of it.
As talk of sheltering in place began, I made my way back to Lawrence and initially felt relief. I didn't know what was coming but I knew it would be okay because I was here, not there. Then one by one, my friends started to trickle back to their respective hometowns. I kept covering COVID-19 for The Eudora Times and started moving all my interviews for stories to phone and Zoom calls, and it began to hit me just how bad things were. This wasn't a thunderstorm that the iPhone weather app was wrong about—there was a 100% chance of a pandemic and the CDC wasn't wrong about it. It was very much happening. Without much hesitation, I packed up my things and back to Tulsa I went.
Weeks in Tulsa turned into months as local stay-at-home orders extended and I felt weirdly stuck. For weeks after my return to Tulsa, I couldn't fathom the irony. I had always been the first to make fun of Oklahoma. I'd never understood why someone would choose to live there, and here I was, making that choice every day.
The weeks that followed consisted of semi-regular walks with my family, a reluctant adjustment to making my childhood bedroom my classroom (which in one instance meant my classmates got to see my dad perform a “happy dance” because we’d scored the highly coveted toilet paper and he didn’t realize I was in class), lots of mooching off of my sister’s cooking and insistence from my dogs that I provide them attention.
Given the nature of quarantine, I didn’t see much of Tulsa at first until I started taking drives around town to cure my persistent boredom. While I drove down the streets I’d grown up on, I saw parts of Tulsa that I realized I wouldn’t get to experience for a while, including my favorite shops and restaurants. I found myself wishing I could see them up close—that it was safe to go gather downtown or walk down the streets with fellow Tulsans in midtown and stop in their shops. That was a strange feeling, realizing I missed what Tulsa had to offer.
I came back to Lawrence this August for my last year here at KU, and I wouldn't change that. I missed it a lot while I was back home and I've rarely left, aside from some time back in Tulsa over winter break. But I've thought a lot about what prompted me to spend almost four months in Tulsa during the pandemic.
The truth is that Tulsa, for better or for worse, raised me. It made me who I am. Most of my family is there, but in a sense, the town itself IS my family. It supported me through my formative years and saw me arguably at my worst (teenage Lucie was a lot). Its coffee shops were there when I had homework to do. Its restaurants were there when my friends and I needed somewhere to talk until close. Its QuikTrips were there when getting gas felt like a huge milestone after I got my driver's license. Its familiarity was there this time last year when the familiarity of just about everything else was suddenly whisked away.
Tulsa is probably not on the top of anyone's destination list for when travel becomes wholly safe again. It's not where I plan to spend the rest of my life. This isn't a “You'll always end up back in the place that made you” story. But I think I owe Tulsa an apology. Our hometowns give us much more than we sometimes realize, even if we grow up resenting them, and sometimes you don't realize that until you don't know where else to go. Next time, it won’t take a pandemic for me to appreciate that.