The radio blares on, playing the latest pop song, a radio game, or a discussion of the day’s traffic. You look over to the red analog letters: 4:30 AM. The sun has yet to wake up, it’s still sleeping, tucked under the covers.

On any other day, you would be asleep and annoyed at the prospect of being awake at this hour. But not today. Today you hop out of the bed and rub your eyes, trying to rid them of the haziness that might pull you back under the covers. You flick on the lights and walk over to your dresser, where you laid out your clothing the night before in anticipation. You pull on a t-shirt, leggings, and a sweatshirt for layers.

After brushing your teeth and doing the minimal amount of hair and skincare—no one except for your family will see you today—you jam last-minute essentials in your bag. Deodorant, a hairbrush, your stuffed animal, etc.

You make your way downstairs, your over-packed luggage banging against your leg the whole way down. Your parents are mostly ready to go. Your dad grabs your bag from you and packs it in the car—stressed out as always. They both rush around, performing last-minute tasks. However, your people-skills have yet to wake up—it’s still too early. You make some coffee and grab a breakfast bar. Your sibling(s) eventually come down from their nests and the car is all packed. As the car heads off, you are excited to leave and reach your new destination.

I’ve had many of these mornings in my life. If there is anything that my family likes to do, it’s travel. To see the red rocks and deep canyons of Arizona, or to watch the steam rise over the U.S. Canadian Border at Niagara before the actual famous falls come into sight. One of my favorite sights is the sun reflecting on the river and watching the bright-green trees on the opposing side swish in the wind.

To my delight, the river is a short drive from my house, and I could go to it every day if I wanted. No long travel and early mornings are required. To my dismay, the river is gross. Pollution from the capital seeps into the water, along with exhaust from airplanes and sewage from the metropolitan areas. I’ve seen entire cars sunken into the Potomac, but sometimes I only get a glance at a single tire. I’ve canoed on this river many times. I’ve even swum in this polluted river, letting the tide float us quickly across expanses of the river. On a good day, the water is blue, but most of the time it’s a gorgeous brown. We never noticed the pollution; we were having too much fun.

The river matches the location adjacent to it nicely. Situated between historical, old towns, and the nation’s capital, my hometown or “home census-designated place” is not ugly per se, but just a little bit. It has the appearance of a road-trip bathroom break: a clustering of fast-food places off the side of the highway.

Like buying sterling silver instead of fine silver, Sterling is a place where people can live affordably and still claim they have the real thing, like “living in the city”. My hometown is relatively nice, shiny, and real-looking, but it is mostly populated by people who want to live in a fancier area but can’t afford the luxuries of actual, fine silver. It a place where the bureaucrats for DC bureaucrats live—people who boast about working for the CIA but are just secretaries and pencil-pushers.

It’s a place where no one is from—locals are rare or pushed west. Most people come to work and learn, but not really live.

It’s loud, with constant noise. The sound of airplanes landing at Dulles is never-ending, fading into background noise. I remember floating in the “deep-end” of the community pool with my friends, holding ourselves above water by gripping the pool-edge, looking up at all the planes in the sky. One time, we managed to convince ourselves that the planes were flying so low they were going to crash onto us.

The sound is of a kinetic place. People are constantly moving onto the next biggest and greatest thing—traveling. They rarely stop and look around them to process or just enjoy the moment. Stopping means less productivity, less money.

Trees going down and data centers going up. Ugly gray masses on the earth that no one can quite explain what they are exactly. I love the green of the area, but I am resigned that it will disappear one day, overtaken by corporate greed and suburbanization. As I drive to basketball practice with my sister, gray lines the road with what used to be green. Road expansion slowly overtakes original homes that have modified and perfected over time, yet traffic is a rampant issue. On the way back home, bright red flags crisscross over the road construction, noting power lines for workers. These flags have been up for so long, they have faded white.

Sections of rusting areas, with a faded blue Laser Nation sign across from old sports fields. In my elementary years, I was a cheerleader in these fields. I spent an hour and a half once or twice a week constantly falling over my feet, with my eyes watching the football game on the field rather than my poor cheer coach. My sister, who knew the cheers better than I did, would watch from the stands. My parents would sit there as well with popcorn to give me when I ran up to them during breaks.

So-called “modern” shopping centers, with Trader Joe’s, Cava, and Harris Teeter slowly envelop these rusting areas. Developers are trying to create mini metropolitans so they can jack up the prices for apartments and sell ice cream to naive homecoming attendees. It’s working.

My home is a mixing pot of the new colliding with old. People move in during their golden age of labor and to raise their children. As soon as their kids are sent off to college, they migrate. Fly away to retirement communities, Florida, Colorado, literally anywhere except for my hometown.

Right now, this area is my only home. It’s a place that I’ve called home my entire life.

Also, right now, I am gone from this home. I’m beginning the process of leaving, currently migrated to college. It has been just over three months and I’ve never been away from home for this long as of right now.

I’ve been to so many beautiful places in the world and I never thought that I would miss

Sterling. Despite its deformities and annoyances, it’s a place of quirks and comfort. I wish to never live there again, but I also would love the option to visit once in a while. Be a visitor in my own home. I miss the comforts of my childhood bedroom, with its teal bedspread and memory foam mattress. The bookshelf lined with the books of my childhood: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the Warrior Cats. The Christmas lights strung across my right wall—with pictures from middle and high school hung on clothespins.

However, I don’t miss the physical space the most. I miss my mom who runs around the house finishing random tasks, making me too scared to ask if she needs help—I’m fearful of what she might rope me into. I miss my dad’s stress packing as he nervously waits in a chair thirty minutes before we are scheduled to leave for me to finally be ready. I miss my sister coming downstairs a bit late, eyes glued to her phone as she watches a video but refuses to show me what she’s watching. I miss the people whom I made my memories of home with. I have no desire to ever go home, but I miss the people that made it so.