My father always said that the only way he was leaving this city was feet first.

It was his way of letting us know that, should he get old and decrepit, he wasn't getting shipped off to an assisted living facility in a second-ring suburb. No sirree.

Aside from winters in Palm Springs, he wasn't moving anywhere. He was going to die in the city he was born in, just a few miles from where his parents raised him in south Minneapolis.

I, on the other hand, couldn't wait to get out of this town. No offense, Minneapolis.

When you're a teenage girl watching "Felicity" on the basement futon while wearing your headgear, you know there's just one place for a girl like you, and that's New York City.

As soon as I had my high school diploma in hand, I was out of here. My dad couldn't wait for me to leave, either.

His only criterion for my college selection process was that the school not be located in Minnesota or any bordering state. St. Thomas? Not a chance. Madison? No way. I wasn't going to be one of those kids who drove home to do her laundry and steal pasta from her parents' cupboards.

"Minneapolis will always be here," he told me, tossing a St. Ben's brochure into the recycling bin. "You can always come back."

He didn't need to tell me that. I was ready to go. I was going to be independent. I was going to thrive on my own. I was going to … Cincinnati? Look, I got nervous during my college tours, chickened out and ended up in Ohio.

Cincinnati wasn't exactly like New York City, and I didn't exactly thrive in college, but I did get through it, and I did all of my own laundry.

So we can just skip over those years and I can instead tell you about how I drove back to Minneapolis the day after college ended, with a printed stack of directions from MapQuest and a "mix" CD that was just 12 tracks of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."

I spent that first night in my childhood bed, the sounds of the city that raised me floating in through the bedroom window, and I knew I had to leave again.

This time to Italy, for an au pair job that was more accurately described as transcribing Britney Spears lyrics for a trio of Italian sisters who were dedicated to memorizing all of Brit's greatest hits by the end of the summer. I thrived, folks. I really did.

And when the summer was over, and the girls had to head back to school? I finally was ready for New York.

Finally in the Big Apple

By ready, of course, I mean I had $400 in cash and was confident that what that town needed was a blindly optimistic girl from the Midwest who had based all her expectations for young adulthood on a fictional TV show starring Keri Russell.

In New York, I learned how to kill a cockroach without crying. I learned that you can cry in public and nobody will really care. You can also apply all of your makeup on a crowded train, or clip your fingernails, and people will care deeply. But they will express that only by making eye contact with strangers that translates to: "Can you believe this lady?"

I. Loved. It.

My dad was right, by the way. Minneapolis was always here and I could always come back. But it was a little bit different every time. Yoga studios and condos popped up where there had been empty lots or historic homes; my high school friends grew up and got married.

One summer, while home for a few days to celebrate my parents' anniversary, something was different. I didn't want to get back on the plane. New York didn't feel like home anymore. But Minneapolis did. So I came back. Back to my childhood bedroom (for about five minutes, until my cruel, unfeeling parents made their tender 27-year-old child get her own apartment). Back to a city that was familiar and new. I got a job. I made friends. I fell in love. I was ready to stay.

When my husband died last year, my first instinct was to run. I spent months on the lam with our toddler, Ralph, on a madcap tour of U.S. cities we could call home.

San Francisco? Too damp. OK, too expensive, I'll admit it. Scottsdale? Too … Scottsdale. OK, too sunny. I'm pale. New York? Completely possible if the cost of child care wasn't 10 times the cost of Ralph's current day care. Denver? Darn near perfect, frankly.

It's good to be back home

It felt good, trying on these different lives, imagining the grocery stores we would shop at and the schools he would attend, the sunny, citrusy backyards that would become our playgrounds. But every time we returned to this collection of potholes and parkways and parkas, it was undeniably, stupidly home.

My father, by the way, kept his promise. Last year, just before my husband died, we buried my father at Fort Snelling. I think of him when we take off and touch down at MSP. How he urged me to venture out, and how he welcomed me back home.

I tell all my friends who are thinking of relocating to Portland or Denver or San Francisco or New York or Dallas the same thing: Go.

Start over if you want to. Explore a new place. Be brave and be stupid and know that even if your old apartment building is replaced by a pile of glass and Sheetrock that rents for $1,800 a month, even if it's so cold your eyeballs hurt, Minneapolis will always be here.

I don't know if Minneapolis is where Ralph and I will be forever, but I know that until he starts proper school and I'm forced to keep a normal schedule, an escape is just a plane ride away.

So, go if you want to. We do. And we always, always come back.

Nora McInerny Purmort writes the blog myhusbandstumor.com. Her first book will be published in May.

10,000 Takes features first-person essays about life in the North Star State. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to christy.desmith@startribune.com.