What Are We Running From?

A meditation for those who leave

LaDonna Witmer


A nighttime view of a street in Lisbon, the cobbled calçadas gleaming in teh streetlight, the wall painted with a horse and rider galloping further and further away around the bend.
Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by author.

I don’t think of myself as a Person Who Leaves. Even though I have left, time and again.

I was born on the eastern coast of the United States near the Chesapeake Bay, but I left before I could speak. My parents moved us to Illinois, the state where they both grew up, when I was two.

I spent my childhood in a big grey farmhouse just west of Ronald Reagan’s hometown of Dixon. It is the only childhood home I remember, but I left it behind as well.

First I moved 42.7 miles east to attend a university.

Then I moved to a neighboring state for a post-graduate fellowship at a big-city newspaper.

Then I settled 75-ish miles away in various tiny apartments in various Chicago suburbs while I broke myself in as a writer (first as a newspaper reporter, then as an advertising copywriter).

It only took me a handful of years to realize that 75 miles wasn’t far enough away from the hometown I had come to loathe, so I packed up my books and pens and brand new husband and drove a U-Haul west for three days until I reached the Pacific Ocean.

In San Francisco I finally found a place where I believed I belonged, and I put down roots and set up house and told everyone I was never leaving.