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The Zoo Keeper

There's no place like home

Layla Watkins

It's been nearly 20 years since I packed up my little Toyota, left Colorado Springs, and headed for Maryland. It was me, my two cats, and a mostly non-functional AM radio for three days, braving it cross-country in winter weather. I left behind a cute little apartment, a decent job, my family and friends, and a whole lot of memories - all for the potential to build a new life for myself. I was 18 years old.

I'll be honest. When I first got to Frederick, I hated it. In fact, it took me about two years to decide it wasn't the worst place in the world. But bit by bit, it grew on me. It wasn't until my first trip back to Colorado that I realized Frederick County had become home. After a day or so, I found myself homesick for Maryland. I couldn't believe it.

Over the years, I've been back to visit family in the Boulder/Denver area a few times and while it was nice to see everyone, I was always ready to come home. I had not, however, been back to Colorado Springs…until this summer.

I went back to visit my best friend from high school, Connie. In school (and well, out of school too - we "missed" a lot of classes) we were inseparable. We were as close as two friends could possibly be, and though we didn't meet until I moved to the Springs when I was 15, it was like we'd been best friends all our lives. We did a lot of living in three years.

Our lives went in different directions after getting out of high school. She had kids young; I had kids later. She was focused on her family; I was focused on college, career, and horses. But still, we kept in touch and were able to see each other a handful of times over the years.

Prior to this summer, the last time I'd seen her was in January 2000, when she came out here to be in me and Wayne's wedding. There had been many "Oh, we have to get together" conversations, but they never went anywhere. Finally, this summer, we made it happen. I left the Zoo in Wayne's hands and went to see my friend.

I could hardly contain my excitement as I drove to the airport. But somewhere over Tennessee, I started getting nervous.

What if it's not the same? What if we don't have anything in common anymore? What if we can't talk like we used to? What if our high school friendship was just that - a high school friendship?

As the plane descended into Colorado Springs, any concerns I had were squelched by an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia to the point of heartache.

The sight of the city at the base of Pikes Peak literally moved me to tears. I was absolutely shocked to realize that after all these years, coming back to Colorado Springs felt like coming home.

It made no sese. I'd lived in Maryland longer than I'd ever lived anywhere else and I have a wonderful life and family here. I'd been back to Colorado before and not felt this type of connection. I spent most of my childhood in the Boulder area and only a little over three years in the Springs - why am I so drawn to this city, to these mountains, and not to Boulder?

History - That's why.

Though my time living in Colorado Springs was relatively short, it was one of the best times of my life. My youth was spent around Boulder, but I grew up in the Springs…with Connie.

Well, suffice it to say, I had nothing to be nervous about. Connie and I together again felt just like old times. Sure, we revisited some of our old "stompin' ground" but mostly, we just played like good friends do. It was the most fun I've had in a long time.

Today, our lives are very different. Her kids are nearly grown (which by the way, is practically unfathomable given that I was there when her first child, Zac, was born). These days, Connie is the one focusing on her career while I stay home with my two little ones. She and her husband, Jim, do a lot of traveling; Wayne and I rarely leave the Zoo for more than a weekend. But, other than somewhat complicating the logistics of us getting together, none of those differences matter.

Connie is still the one to whom I can tell anything. She is still the one who I know will be 100% honest with me, even if the truth hurts. She is still the one who makes me laugh so hard I can't breathe. She is still the one I think of first when I think of a best friend.

As my own kids get ready to start school this month, I can't help hoping that they too will find a lifelong friend. Home is where the heart is, and of course, my home is here with my family. But, there's a part of my heart, and therefore a part of my home that is, and always will be, Colorado Springs.

Read other article by Layla Watkins