Since Monday was Memorial Day, I thought I'd do something a little different this month.
As you may or may not know, "Be Our Guest" is not only for moms, but wives as well. Those who do not have children, or do not have children yet. So, if you're in that category, do feel free to shoot me an e-mail! Even if you're about to be married you can guest post!
This month I would like to introduce Cindy! I truly cannot do this introduction justice, because there's so much that can be said. Cindy became a part of my life when she started dating my best friend, Will. Turns out that Will, Cindy, Clark, and myself all ended up being thrown together in this thing called life and came out being best friends all together. Clark and I have been so blessed to have them as part of our life.
I must admit that when I read Cindy's guest post it brought me to tears. If you're a military brat of any kind, be warned-- this truly hits "home".
Nowhere's Home (And That's Okay)
Whenever I’m getting to know someone new, there’s always one question that I dread being asked. I dread quite a lot of questions, to be fair, because it’s already in my nature to be shy around strangers. But one, in particular, gets me shaking in my shoes - not because I don’t enjoy the topic, but rather, I loathe the embarrassingly long time it takes me to formulate an honest answer.
It’s a simple little inquiry, a terribly typical and polite thing to discuss. But I cringe inside every time I hear the four unassuming words - “where are you from?”
You see, the truth is this: I was born deep down in the heart of the American south, in Macon, Georgia. But I was raised by two Floridians, who had just moved there from California, so I don’t sound like it. When I was a toddler, we moved to the border of Missouri and Illinois, near St. Louis. After that, I moved in rapid succession through four towns along the gulf coast of Florida. The final one, Sarasota, is where I graduated from high school. I attended the University of Connecticut for one year and lived in Willimantic before transferring to the University of North Carolina as a sophomore and taking up in Chapel Hill. I lived in Washington, D.C. for several months during college, working as an intern for National Geographic. Presently, I reside in the “other Washington” – the state, just south of Seattle. Oh but, in terms of culture, climate and general comfort, I will always feel most at home in England, where I spent several months in 2009.
As you can see, the truth is quite messy. I refuse to subject a casual inquirer to all of that.
So, I’m left two options: 1) lie, and just say whatever place I’ve left most recently or 2) try to temper my honesty with brevity by saying something enigmatic (but still technically correct) like “everywhere,” “the world,” or “the United States Air Force.”
Actually, that last answer may be closer to the truth than any other. I’m a textbook “military brat.” The place of my birth and nearly all of the places I lived as a child were purely dictated by my father’s assignments as an Air Force officer.
Of course, the general “mil brat” category contains a couple interesting subsets. There are inevitably those kids that come to resent the nomadic lifestyle forced upon them. They pine for storybook, small-town normalcy and settle down somewhere as soon as they become adults, vowing to give their own children the warm, fuzzy, clear-cut, geographically-based identity they never had.
Then there’s the other kind.
I’m the other kind. The “hell with it, I’ve already lived in a dozen different places, too late to turn back now, might as well make it even more interesting” kind. And my husband of one year, Will, an Army officer, is allowing me to do just that.
He’s a military kid, too, though he moved around far less than me. I met him in high school, when we were both fifteen. He already knew at that point that he wanted to follow his dad’s footsteps and join the military. I had thought that I might join myself one day, when I was younger, but my cluster of chronic health conditions had quickly quashed that dream. So I both admired and envied his decision. And the more time I spent around him, the more in love I fell with him, the more I began to wish he’d take me along with him – take me “home,” in effect, to the itinerant military way of life, the only one I’d ever known.
A couple years passed before we really got to know each other better and started dating. He received an ROTC scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida, and I went off to Connecticut. Then North Carolina. Then England. Then D.C. We embarked on a four-and-a-half-year, long-distance relationship (with distances ranging from 600 to well over 4,000 miles).
People constantly asked us how we did it. I asked, how could we not? After all, if we lasted, we’d only be spending more time apart once he commissioned as an Army officer. Not only might we be stationed anywhere from Korea to Belgium (and everywhere in between), there would be deployments to contend with. I would be apart from him, alone in some unknown state or country, and on top of that fearing for his safety and life. This was inevitable. This was certain.
So why sugarcoat it? Why give ourselves a few years of constant, contented togetherness just to have it ripped away? Why not suck it up, tough it out, and attempt to get used to it? We thought about it and decided to start things the hard way. If we could both get through the next half decade seeing each other only a couple months out of each year, then we could certainly get through a lifetime of whatever the military threw our way.
Sure, we missed each other. All the time. There were breakdowns, panic attacks, moments of doubt, of abject loneliness, of fear. But if I couldn’t handle Skyping him alone each night from the comfort of my posh, mahogany-furnished, 14th-century dormitory at Oxford, how in the world could I ever expect to handle him Skyping me from a tent in war-torn Afghanistan?
I decided I could—I would—handle it. The same way I handled it when my dad was in France, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The same way I’m handling things now, with virtually all of my friends and family, nearly everyone I love and care about, 3,000-odd miles away from me on the east coast of the U.S.
When you stop thinking of “home” as some sort of building or structure, or cluster of structures, or definable geographic point on a map, something really amazing happens. You realize that none of those things have much to do with home at all.
I believe people become emotionally attached to houses and the stuff in them because they help to contain memories, to neatly encompass emotions, as it were. Just as covers contain the pages of books and the pages contain the words, houses and towns help give physical definition to feelings and ideas and recollections of interactions.
But you are perfectly capable of memorizing a poem, freeing it from its physical form of ink on a page and letting it live instead in your mind. And if you one day picked up another, a different edition with different binding and differently colored paper, wouldn’t you recognize it all the same? You could go out and copy down the poem a million times in a million different ways. Write it down in ink. In pencil. In sand. In blood. It’s the same. It’s yours.
Military spouses and children are asked to do something similar, though on a larger scale. We free the concept of home from all physicality and geography and carry it inside us. It may sound like a tall order. But in the digital, internet age, it’s actually easier than ever before.
I only wish it were possible for other people to see my “home.” I wish I could take them there. Show them a picture. I wish I could evoke it for them as easily as some can when they say Dallas, Sydney, Montreal. When I think of “where I’m from,” a rich tapestry of faces and places comes to mind. It’s the most interesting “hometown” there ever was. And it’s not any less real than yours, if you’ve got just one. I think, perhaps, it is more so.
I imagine there are many people out there who may be nervous about entering military life with their significant other. They may doubt their ability to cope with a rootless existence or their capacity to raise children in such apparent chaos – never knowing where they’ll live next year, or when a deployment will force them to do a stint as a single parent. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for certain. But neither is anything else worth doing.
I wouldn’t trade my life, my “home,” for anything. And if Will decides to stay in the military for his entire career, I’m lining my cards up to make it my career, too. In the fall, I’m starting graduate school and will begin working toward my M.L.I.S. so I can seek work as a DoD civilian wherever we end up, serving my country as an Army librarian or digital archivist one day, I hope.
And I look forward to the prospect of raising a kid or two even though, right now, I can’t even guess where they’d be born, or start kindergarten, or win a science fair, or go to prom. Maybe here. Maybe Hawaii. Maybe Germany. Maybe Georgia. I can’t visualize all the kitchens where I’ll cook them dinner or the bedrooms where I’ll tuck them in at night. It’s impossible to do that, and I don’t even try.
But, if we raise them in the military, in some ways it’ll be like raising them in my hometown and Will’s, even though we didn’t grow up together. Somehow, for once, we’ll know all the streets, and all the neighbors. It’s a big neighborhood, and far flung. But it’s a good one, I think. I think perhaps the best.
Want more of Cindy's amazing writing? Visit her blog for all sorts of things at: Between Two Waves of the Sea.
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