Late last week, a long-awaited dream finally came true. Teeny, lil sis extraordinaire, finally made the trek out to Portland, with our beautiful mami in tow. It’s been fantastic getting to show them around–and show them off–to this new world I’ve burrowed into in the great Northwest. We’ve spent the time together walking through multi-million-dollar homes like toddlers at the zoo, stuffing our bellies to the brim at the best happy hours this side of the Willamette, and just sitting hand-in-hand during Monday movie night. The memories will forever live in my heart, long after their edges have frayed and colors have dimmed.

Despite all this, I can’t help but be a bit sad. And cry a little. OK, a lot. Like all day, at random intervals. This is the first visit during which mami hasn’t stayed in my apartment with me the entire time. Over the weekend, we enjoyed (depending on who you ask–my creaky bones may beg to differ) a slumber party with the Marielas in the bedroom and us on the air mattress in the next room. My back may not have appreciated the arrangement, but even it now misses the conversations over toothpaste and early-morning laughs. Turns out, having my family stay in a room even just a mile away is too far. At the end of the night, I still have to say good bye instead of good night, a distinction with which I’ve become all too familiar.

Dropping them off in their hotel room and turning to leave felt harder than driving away from their house that now-infamous day nearly four years ago. Even now, just writing this, it makes my vision blur with tears. Somehow, it took me until this moment to really feel the gravity of what I’ve done. And what my parents had to endure–which they did with such support and love. Now, I’m beginning to really understand how hard it must’ve been to watch my car drive down the street I grew up on and disappear into the Western sun.

I have to be clear–I love the world I live in now. There was something missing in Minnesota that I’ve finally found here. I don’t regret coming here, exactly. But, I may regret doing it so shortsightedly. I moved for an adventure, to prove to myself I could, to see what it would be like. But I never meant to stay forever. It’s just that even in the beginning, when things were so hard, for so long, I was determined not to fail. So I stayed. And kept trying. I didn’t realize that succeeding–getting a job, friends, a home–meant I’d be making it nearly impossible to leave.

Looking back, I want to shake that naive 20-something who packed her bags with a whole wardrobe and half a plan. How did I not see it? How did I not know that getting a good job here meant I couldn’t go back? How could I listen to my dad ask me to move home when I called him crying because I was lonely and feeling hopeless, and tell him I couldn’t, because I had to make it work? How did I not know that I was wasting valuable time with the world’s–my world’s–most important people?

Dropping mom and Tina off at the hotel the second night was no easier than the first. The 10-minute drive home was just as teary, and my apartment was every bit as quiet when I returned. I still have two days left with my mom and sister, but it isn’t enough. It’s just two more goodbyes I’m not ready to say.