Home is a funny concept. For (I’d venture to say) most people, it is fairly simple. For everyone, it is ideally a significant source of comfort and identity; a collage of memories of time, place, and people which centers you. Home gives you a sense of who you are and who you’ve been, maybe even who you’ll be. It encases a world that is purely yours. For much of my life, home has been quite complicated.
My first home was in New Jersey, although I have no memory of it, as we moved to Virginia when I was an (adorable) two-year-old. My parents bought a house in the suburbs, where I lived for the next 13 years. In that house, I lived the happiest of childhoods: wrestling as Pokemon characters with my father and younger brother; playing with frogs at the creek behind our yard; and having Easter egg hunts, trick-or-treating, and waging stink-bomb wars with the neighborhood children. When I was 11, my parents decided to separate, and I’ll never forget the time they sat us down on our old couch to give us the news.
After that moment, home became more complex. My mother moved out and into a fairly rough apartment complex in the city. In the afternoons after school and weekend days we spent with her, I came to love it there. I remember my father’s reaction when I told him that I didn’t have a home anymore, since I now had two houses, each with one of my parents. Nonetheless, we made new memories in our new home and our old one. While I was introduced to violence, racism, and poverty in that apartment complex, my experience there imprinted me in a way I cannot separate from who I am today.
A few years later, as a freshman in high school, I watched both of my parents remarry. My mother moved in with her new husband and my brother and I struggled to feel at home in his house, despite his initial attempts to welcome us. My father then moved with my stepmother into a beautiful log-cabin style house on a dirt road in the outskirts of town. Neither place really felt like home, or at least they don’t now, as I look back on what was only a few years of my life. Those houses didn’t last long, as my mother divorced her second husband, and my father and stepmother moved yet again; this time into a bigger house with more land to suit their growing family (I now have two beautiful half-sisters).
Within the next few years, my Dad dropped me off at the University of Mary Washington, my new home for the next 4 years. In that time, I met some amazing people and learned a lot about myself. I survived living in a house with 5 other women, and made some incredible memories with them on our picturesque campus. A little over an hour away from my hometown, I was able to develop my independence while still being close enough to home to come and visit over the holidays.
While traveling with the debate team in college, I met my husband. I knew that he was a big deal, but I had no idea that he would change my life as I knew it. After graduating from UMW, I moved with Casey to Pensacola, FL. Saying goodbye to my family and friends was really difficult, but I was excited about the adventures Casey and I had in store for us.
In our 900- square foot home in Pensacola, Casey and I learned a lot about each other. Within a few months of living there, the Marine Corps promptly sent Casey to San Diego for a temporary assignment while he was awaiting flight school. I have never cried the way I did when I put Casey on that plane out of Pensacola, as for the first time in my life, I was entirely alone. Except for Barley, our 4-month-old beagle mix, I did not know anyone in that part of the country. I had to learn to get around the city, find a job, and start a life on my own. Barley and I enjoyed walks along the bayou each night, and I came to love our new little home. Within weeks I found a job and was on my way to independence. When Casey came home, I felt complete. Then we moved again.
After 9 months in Pensacola, we moved an hour north to Milton, Florida. We adjusted quickly to our new home, painting and unpacking in record time. Barley loved his new backyard, and we adopted our cat from beneath a dumpster near the house. After another 9 months, it was time to pick up and move again. Casey and I got engaged, and then headed to Texas! We spent the next year in Corpus Christi, where we planned our wedding, bought cowboy boots, got married, and then prepared for our move across the world! Corpus Christi never really felt like home to us, as we did not plan to be there long and Casey moved to North Carolina for training during our time there. While I came to enjoy parts of living in Texas, it always felt like a place in between homes (although it will always be the place where Casey and I said our wedding vows).
After 6 months apart, Casey in NC and I in Texas, we were reunited right before we picked up and moved across the world: to Okinawa, Japan. In our concrete tower apartment on a military base, we have adjusted to life overseas, with Casey traveling the world while I hold down the fort at home. Making Okinawa home has not been easy. There is no Target to run to when I need affordable window treatments, and I can’t just pick up the phone to call family back in the states. After about 6 months of life overseas, I started to feel like I needed more, that I was missing out on all the action back in America. Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity to come back to the states, as 2 of my best friends were getting married.
A month ago, I boarded a big plane in Naha and headed for home. America. I’ve seen about half of my favorite people in the world, eaten at all the requisite American restaurants, enjoying such quintessential comfort foods as sweet tea, Vermont maple syrup, potato salad, and black bean soup in a bread bowl at Panera (about 10 times). I’ve been to Target, Old Navy, Walmart, Michael’s, PetSmart, H&M, you name it. I’ve spent time in Vermont, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Needless to say, it has been a busy month.
I stopped by the last home I lived in with my family, and felt empty when I saw someone else’s car in the driveway. I walked around the campus at Mary Washington, and realized that I’m not the only one who’s changed. My hometown, Richmond, is not the same place it once was. While I have enjoyed my time here, spent with the people I love, I have realized how lucky I am. I miss my home, my husband, my sweet dog and cat, my friends, my daily routine, all of it. I thought that I belonged to Virginia, to Mary Washington, to America. This time here has shown me that what I thought of home was too complicated.
Home doesn’t have to be where you go after a long shift at work. It’s not where you cook dinner, or go to sleep at night. Home is where you love. Where you love your family, and the sunrise, where you love yourself. The location will change. You will change. And that’s ok, because home is where your life is. Every place you call home becomes a part of you, but you make it home. My home is over 10,000 miles away, and I just can’t wait to get back there and fall in love with it all over again.
You can’t always choose where you land, but wherever your life is, love it.