I grew up in California, but I’ve spent all but a couple weeks of my 20s living in various cities in Iowa. When I tell Iowans – especially native Iowans – where I’m from, they look at me in disbelief, almost disapprovingly. They ask me how I ended up in Iowa (though it’s usually more of a “Why?”, though they never use “Why?”).
I usually tell them there’s a short version – that I transferred to the University of Iowa, settled in, and never left – and a long version – a rambling mess that includes three key parts: why I considered Iowa at all (#1 on this list), what sold me on the UI (#2 on this list), and why I stuck around (the husband).
People never want the long version. So I’ve finally compromised between the two, and I now present to you a list version that contains all the people who played some part in getting me here, where I’ve since earned two degrees, gotten married, and now enjoy something resembling a life here. (Now I can just send inquiring Iowans this link!)
- Ms. Manchester: My junior year AP English teacher, and the obvious #1. She did her master’s program at the University of Iowa, and when she heard I was going to be driving through the state, she urged me to make a pit stop in Iowa City. I did. I fell in love immediately and applied to the school as soon as I got home. (She was also the first to introduce me to Hamburg Inn, for which I can never truly thank her enough).
- Ariel: My good high school friend. She was working for one of our high school teachers, who asked her to deliver his van from Sonoma to Chicago the summer after our freshman year of college. She then asked me to join her, and we ended up making that pit stop in Iowa City a few hours before we arrived in Chicago.
- Mr. Donnelley: My – and Ariel’s – high school economics teacher. He was flush with cash from growing some algae before he started teaching in the area and thus felt it necessary to dip into a pool of loyal former students to find a personal assistant. He chose Ariel, and one summer he asked her to deliver one of his cars from Sonoma to Chicago.
- Sonoma Valley Unified School District/the city of Sonoma: There’s only one high school in Sonoma. But there are two middle schools, one of which opened the year I started sixth grade. Thanks to a diversity-motivated move from the district, my elementary school and another elementary school across town were the ones chosen to populate the new middle school. Ariel didn’t go to that other elementary school, but she lived in its district, so she ended up in middle school with me.
- Old Adobe School: The preschool where Ariel and I first met. We wouldn’t have reconnected in middle school if not for this chance friendship.
- My parents: We moved to Sonoma when I was 4 years old. “We” included my parents, who chose to move there. This was pretty straightforward.
- My dad’s firm: I think it was their choice to move the company from the San Francisco metro, where we lived at the time, to Sonoma.
- Maybe going back any further would be pointless, but I could have gone back quite a bit, until it devolved into a series of “what if” questions: What if my dad hadn’t hated his first college so much he quit during his first semester, thereby graduating from his second college a year later than if he’d finished on time? What if he’d finished on time and hadn’t ended up in the Washington, D.C. area, where he was introduced to my mom? What if my mom hadn’t left Haiti, where she was born, and made it to New York City, where she grew up?
- Myself: For the existential crisis that was the process of making this list.
- You: Well, either you’re here in Iowa with me and have made this journey worthwhile, you’re someone I knew before Iowa and didn’t virulently object to my decision to move here, or you’re neither, you’re still reading this, and you made it to #10. Thank you.