There is one thing I remember from the second time I drove into Manhattan, Kansas. I remember quite a bit about the first time too, but at that point I was a high school senior, and even though I knew that this was where I wanted to go to college, it all seemed so surreal and far away.
But my second time it was not to visit, it was to stay. Manhattan was going to be my home, and I was terrified. I had no idea what I had committed to, and still was not above begging my dad to take me back to Oregon with him. But the single thing I remember from that drive in from the airport was the sound. The sun was starting to go down in my beloved west, and what should have been a beautiful evening, was ruined by what sounded like a surround sound generator. When we pulled up to Smurthwaite Scholarship House, the first thing my dad says to the girl welcoming me in is, “What the hell is that sound out there?”
They were cicadas and at that point I was fairly sure there was no way I could live in Manhattan, Kansas.
Fast forward 5.5 years later, and not only did I stay and graduate from Kansas State University, but I chose to stay in Manhattan for my first job. Now I am looking at a new job and adventure in Washington D.C., and with two days before my move, I keep thinking back to those stupid cicadas. I couldn’t tell you when it happened, but at some point, they became a normal part of life, and then I didn’t notice them at all.
I think it would be easier to leave a place if you were running from it. But while my life seems to have always moved at a full sprint, I never felt like I was running away from anything. I have said this a million and one times, but I never could have known what the choice of a stubborn eighteen-year-old would become. The phrase “Home is where the heart is” is a common one, but I think it needs to be taken a step further. Home is a feeling, and the strongest, truest, best feelings are the ones that you cannot quite describe. Those are feelings of love. And somewhere between those cicadas driving me insane and now, I fell in love with Manhattan, Kansas, and it became my home.
So, here is my love letter to you, because these are that kind of feelings that should be shared.
I love you at 7:00 PM in the summer. The day’s temperature might have been unbearable, but when the humidity evaporates a little and the harsh sun splashes itself across the western horizon, everything else seems to wake up. Your smell, your color, your people and the promise of a little relief and time to enjoy being outside always got me through until the end of the day. As a K-State alumna I always loved the heartbeat of our campus, but in the summer, you slow down and become almost peaceful. I love that you could be both and that the college and the community were a part of each other. I do not know if you could have one without the other and still fall in love.
But my favorite season has always been fall, and it will always be my favorite time of year here. An oasis amongst the Konza Prairie, I do not think I will ever tire of looking at the palette of fall leaves against your traditional limestone buildings. Fall also meant the city came alive again and while I quickly became a townie after graduation, K-State is what brought me here in the first place. And when my last day on earth comes, a seat in Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a roaring crowd is a strong contender for how I want to spend it.
I love your culture and your quirky personality. Often, when you say you are from Manhattan, people do not know that The Big Apple has a little sister settled out in the Midwest. But invest a little time here and give it a chance and you will find you do not need those big city lights. I will miss lazy days out at Pillsbury and Tuttle Creek, and eating ice cream up on Manhattan Hill. Every time I thought I had finally eaten at all of the unique places, there was always one more to try. And man, I am sure going to miss having a Nancy and raspberry chipotle bean dip at So Long’s or Lucha.
I have seen Aggieville packed with purple, packed with green and just plain packed. Every time I hear red dirt music I will be taken back to sticky floors, neon lights and two-stepping in Longhorns, back when it was in its country prime. She brought me new friends, great memories and terrible stories to laugh about later. And sure, it is great to reminisce about a time when my roommates and I knew its sidewalks better at last call, but I fell in love all over again each time I discovered its daytime personality. I loved getting lost in the Dusty Bookshelf, bacon maple donuts at Varsity and cheering on the Wildcats and Royals from the seats of whichever bar was not “cursed” at the time.
You know, I could have written this letter to K-State to specifically to reminisce about college, but I have had time to do that since I graduated, and as much as I miss it, I am okay with those four years being memories. Really great memories. And like college has, you will soon become a part of my past. But you see people pass through with their eyes on the future year after year, and you should be pretty darn proud at the role you have played in the success of so many of those futures.
Most people agree that it is the simplest things in life to enjoy and surround yourself with. Well Manhattan, you sure do simple well. It is ordering the Blackhole at Bluestem Bistro, exploring the Konza and waking up to see the sunrise on “Top of the World.” It is driving “the city loop” at midnight with the windows down and blaring your favorite playlist. It is the fact that you could meet someone new every day, then see five people you knew at the grocery store. It is all your silly traditions. It is tailgating on Gameday and fighting back the tears when they open the game with “Proud of the House We Built.” It is showing you off to my family every time they visited. It is forgetting how many times you have seen Logan Mize live and the crowd singing along to “Never Gonna Change.”
I love you for the people you brought into my life. Some were temporary and only shared a short part of their lives with me and others I will be connected to for the rest of my life. These people changed me. They became my best friends, partners in crime and soul sisters. They taught me to love Kansas. They welcomed me into their families. I have always believed that you will find good, kind people wherever you go, but I am pretty convinced that the best ones have lived in Kansas at some point in their life.
This was a long love letter, not short and snappy like a blog post should be, but I needed to write it. For others, because I want you to know how much it hurts my heart to leave. My life here was full in every way. I feel selfish to think that maybe I can find what I had here in another place. But if I do not, I know that I lived more in these 6 years, then some ever do.
I mostly wrote this though, for myself. It is a strange feeling, when you’re about to leave a place. I know that I am not only going to miss the people I love, and this town, but I am going to miss the person I am at this very moment and place, because I know I will never be this way ever again. But I am so very thankful for that person you made me become. You taught her to laugh louder, write better and think for herself. She learned to love, and she learned to always keep moving forward. She finished growing up here, became independent and passionate about the world around her. If it was not for you, she might have never been brave to take another risk and make a move like this.
To Manhappiness, this purple little town that I have called home,
I am so thankful those cicadas became a normal, welcomed part of life.
I cannot wait to come back and visit.