The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
In July 2012, I blindly came to Atlanta to start graduate school at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Within two weeks, I was sure I’d leave. The heat was overwhelming, and the vehicle dependency was frustrating. Shortly after classes began, my childhood dog died. It made adjusting to school, which my peers seemed to handle with ease, even harder. I missed my life and friends in Copenhagen, where I’d worked for a year after college at a study abroad program.
Three of my mom’s cousins and their families were based in Atlanta. Since I’d grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know them well. But I had partly chosen to attend Emory because I knew I’d have a built-in support system nearby. My “cousaunts” (as I named them; cousins that feel like aunts), kept showing up. They gave me a bed, drove me to places that weren’t accessible via public transportation, fed me and loved me.
Then I settled into school. The coursework didn’t get easier, but the routine did, especially when I began to cultivate friendships. I got used to hiking in the North Georgia mountains, started biking again, dug in with volunteer activities and joined a church. I spent my first summer in Georgia driving all over the state researching maternal health care for my graduate thesis, trying to teach myself to swim laps and fighting with the damn bugs — from mosquitoes to chiggers to cockroaches, which Southerners politely call “Palmetto bugs.” I felt like this could be a place I’d stay for a while, despite my initial reservations about the city.
Over the course of two more years, I completed my thesis, graduated and said goodbye to many friends who left the city for post-grad positions all over the world. In 2015, I started a one-year fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which later turned into a full-time position. In what would be the most pivotal shift in my career thus far, I began working on the Ebola response in Sierra Leone. I grew and learned so much – about my career goals, working for the federal government and the flaws of humanitarian health. While traveling back and forth to West Africa from Atlanta, I discovered my favorite quiet spots to spend long layovers in the Amsterdam and Paris airports. (In both airports, I learned that Exki’s vegetarian food tastes especially great after weeks of plantains and rice.)
I brought sweet Emmett the rescue pup into my life, made deeper friendships in and out of work, and thought, “Finally — life feels full and balanced.” My cousaunts joked that I knew Atlanta better than they did, despite the fact that they had lived there for so many more years.
Since my position at the CDC had an expiration date tied to federal funding, I found myself wanting to stay in Atlanta. I tried desperately to find a new job in the city, but the current political climate has made funding in my field uncertain and tenuous. Turning in all my equipment and handing over my responsibilities at the CDC left me more emotionally jumbled than I expected. Now, as I learn to navigate New York City, where I recently moved to for a new job, I miss the tree-lined neighborhoods of Atlanta; my group of compassionate, empowered and engaged friends; the growing respect that cars have for cyclists; and the short lines at Trader Joe’s.
How lucky and blessed I am to have encountered so many lives and simple pleasures that make saying goodbye so hard.
I’ll miss my first church home in adulthood, where I was welcomed, challenged and valued. I love this church’s heart for Atlanta and for the world, where stewardship and accompaniment are modeled and encouraged. It was a true blessing to grow in my faith through the young adult gatherings and alongside the coolest Sunday school class of middle schoolers.
I’ll miss this gathering place for the Mobile Social, a monthly group bike ride that helped me regain my confidence as a cyclist on city streets named after civil rights heroes (and yes, peach trees). After three years of riding as a participant, becoming a ride leader and digging in with the bike community through the Atlanta Cycling Festival introduced me to some of my closest friends on two wheels. I won’t miss having to negotiate around the streetcar tracks on my bike, though.
I’ll miss this coffee shop which, bizarrely, has locations in just two cities: Olympia, Wash., where my parents live, and Atlanta. During grad school, my dad loved walking from his office to buy me a gift card and mailing it to me as a special treat. After finishing school, I could walk from my apartment to the Ponce City Market location to read on the giant outdoor swings or get a coffee with friends.
I’ll miss the coconut and toasted almond doughnuts that my friends and I got (almost) every Tuesday at the Emory Farmers Market. We’d take a break and walk down to the undergrad campus, then commiserate over schoolwork and plan weekend activities over a doughnut and maybe a coffee. I still follow the shop on Instagram and drool over the doughnuts from a distance.
I’ll miss this park that was just down the hill from my first solo apartment after graduate school. When I adopted Emmett, I was bewildered and scared about this new responsibility. This park was the first place I took him for playtime when we got home from the shelter. He and I spent many hours running around the grass, sleepily watching the resident blue heron on early morning walks, and practicing “sit, stay, come” together.
I’ll miss the screened-in porch in Decatur, Ga., where we spent many Sunday dinners through summer and fall, and the dining room table where we gathered the rest of the year. The tablecloth that we wrote on every Thanksgiving marked our happinesses and heartbreaks through those years, as the boys got older and dogs came and went in all our lives. Even now, as I embark on my new life in New York, I am always welcomed with tight hugs and a meal in this home, which we lovingly call “the Farm” because of its two dogs, backyard chickens and fish pond.
Visiting Atlanta? Find Erika’s recommendations mapped out here.