I spent the first 23 years of my life living in the same state. Then I married a military man and my time in the great state of Kansas came to an end. Those first few years in the Air Force were extremely hard on me. I felt like a great oak tree that had been uprooted and replanted somewhere else. Everything felt foreign. I knew not a soul. My family that I was so used to spending every holiday or life event with was 10 hours away. Nothing was familiar. I wanted to go home. So, I told my husband in no uncertain terms that he was to do his four years and get out. With a pained look on his face, he reluctantly agreed.
You see, my husband grew up an Army brat. The military life is what he knows. For him, moving to Ohio was just another great adventure. To me, it was overwhelming and chaotic. My anxiety of this new situation left me irritable and somewhat depressed. All I could think about was all that I was missing back at home. The first time we went home, it felt so good to be back around familiar surroundings. I felt in my element again. It was a safe, secure feeling that eased my mind and heart. And then…
There was one time we went home in those four years and it didn’t feel the same. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing my family and friends and visiting all my favorite spots, but something was off. For a long time I could not pinpoint what was different. When we went back to Ohio after our visit, I mulled and mulled over this strange sensation. And then I realized with utter sadness what was different–I didn’t belong there anymore.
It’s hard to explain really. Kansas is home for me, it always will be. I love those Flint Hills on a summer evening with a good Kansas storm brewing in the distance. I love the homegrown roots of being a Midwestern girl. I love the simplicity of Kansas. And my people are there. But, something definitely changed and I’ve never really been able to accurately explain in words.
So, after four years, my husband did not get out. I learned to adapt. I made friends, I got involved, I explored a new area of our great country and I survived. It stretched me and made me grow. I met lots of people that didn’t look like me or do things how I was raised. They taught me things, I taught them things. The life grew on me. After Ohio, we moved to the Emerald Coast in Florida and I started the process all over again. From there, we moved all the way across the country to live in the most remote place I can imagine–Edwards AFB in the Mojave Desert. And now, we are on the other side of the country relishing in all things historical.
In each place I’ve met fascinating people that have given me glimpses into the rest of the world. I have an Italian friend who could lure me to her house with coffee at three in the afternoon and I’d be there until 11pm. She was like a magician: She’d invite the whole block to her house for dinner and all she would have in the fridge would be some asparagus and parmesan cheese and before you knew she’d have a feast on the table. I have a friend who planned a block Halloween party with me for our base neighborhood. She threw my second child’s baby shower when we’d only known each other for a few months. I have a Mormon friend, who has never judged or questioned my Catholicism. She just loved having me over at her house to talk life and let our kids play around us. I have a friend who rushed to my house to drive me to the hospital while I was bleeding heavily from a miscarriage. Dustin was TDY and I was scared to be alone. She missed her son’s school play to be by my side for hours at the hospital. I have friends from all over the place and it has been so enriching to learn their cultural traditions and way of life. And then, I have THE friend that the military has given me. She is my military sister. I can’t even speak of what it will be like to not have her stationed with or near me.
The military has made me a vagabond. At each place I have left a piece of me and each place calls to me at different times. Or maybe, it’s not that I’ve left a piece of me, but rather, I have collected up all that each place has given me and I carry it with me. There are times when I ache to stick my toes in that sugar, white sand on the beach at Shell Island in Panama City. The ocean side of that island is the most beautifully secluded spot that I have ever experienced in my life. Other times I miss the desert. I miss how when the sun would go down on the mountain range at night; The eastern sky would be painted navy blue and the western sky was gradients of purple such as I’ve never seen anywhere else. Some nights I fall asleep dreaming of Highway 1 in California. A big smile crosses my face when I think of the Korean ladies at our favorite Korean restaurant in Florida. They loved to dote on my girls and they truly enjoyed bringing us free appetizers just so they could see our faces light up with pleasure. All these experiences are like treasure boxes in my head. I’ve already experienced them, but I delight in opening them up again and again and reliving those times. Each time I open one of those boxes, I am engulfed in waves of smells, sights, sounds, emotions, and friends’ faces that warm my heart. I never knew that this would be something the military life would give me.
I worry sometimes about what it will be like to settle down somewhere once Dustin retires. My husband gets wanderlust every two to three years after we’ve lived somewhere and I wonder if that every goes away. He has been at this life much longer than me and its become his way. Sometimes I fear that it will become mine, maybe it already has. Through all of these experiences, I have grown in ways I could never have imagined and for that I am thankful.
Because I grew up in a house with an extremely musical father, I pick songs to pair with memories or emotions. When I think of my time in the military there are two songs that play in my head. The first one is a song by Allison Krauss called “Gravity.” Fourteen years in the military and I believe these lines sum up a lot of how I feel:
“And the people who love me, still ask me
When are you coming back to town. And
I answer, quite frankly, when they stop
building roads and all God needs is gravity
to hold me down.”
Strangely, of all the places I’ve been, there has not been one place where I feel like I really belong. There is always another town to explore, another friend to make, another adventure to be had. You would think that I would feel unsettled or discontent living this lifestyle, but I don’t. My great revelation is that I realize that where I belong is with Dustin. Where he is, that’s where I belong. That’s why, no matter where we go, even if it’s to the middle of Nowheresville in the Mojave Desert, I am happy. So, the second song goes like this:
“I would ride across the mesa
To the Arizona plain
And sail beyond the shores of sisco beach
I’d go down the Mississippi
To the land of hurricanes
Or I’ll climb
The hills of Tennessee
If that’s where you are
That’s where I’ll be”
The reason I didn’t belong in Kansas anymore, is because my airman doesn’t live there. It’s a wild ride, this military life. I never would have thought that fourteen years ago, but time has a way of changing things.
(The featured picture is of our cross country dity move from California to Virginia.)