I remember pulling up to the base gate all those months ago. Excitement had fluttered in my chest all the way there, knowing that with each tiny Texas town I passed, I was one four-way traffic light closer to a different life.
Once I was cleared by the gate guards, I didn’t know which streets to take and had to follow my soon-to-be husband to our rental house. We meandered through unfamiliar scenery, past the clinic, past the chapel, the gym, a football field to the right. Finally, I pulled into the driveway. A box was attached to the front of the house which displayed the unit number, aglow in warm yellow light.
This little home on this little base in this little town was ours for the next two years. I thought of that Alan Jackson song, “Little Bitty,” and got out of my car.
Walking into an empty place is always one of those moments for me, ones that you know–even as they’re happening–that you won’t forget. I remember walking into my college dorm for the first time, and my first apartment all my own, full of opportunity and independence.
And now this house.
I saw beige walls and beige linoleum and beige countertops and fear took hold where I didn’t want it. How on Earth were we going to make this place a home?
In June, we’ll pack up this house, turn in the keys, and drive to Little Rock, Arkansas.
Then in December, we’ll say goodbye to our family and friends, board a plane bound for Germany, and start yet another new life.
We’ll call a few different places home in the space of a year. Most of what we own will end up in crates, on a cargo ship, bound for Europe. We won’t see those things for months. We’ll carry eight suitcases of essentials with us on the flight. Our fluffball, Ralph, will go into his kennel (probably fall asleep for 9 hours) and wake up on a different continent.
My little homebody heart would have struggled with this outlook before. I like to feel cozy. I like to feel as if everything’s in place. I like to feel nested.
But then again, we made that little house on that little base in that little town with all that beige a home. A place that–when we pack up and see the empty rooms and blank walls and naked floors like that very first day–I’ll feel a clench of something like grief.
Growing up, I always imagined a big two-story house on a quiet street with a wide front porch and a long dining room table. In high school, I had a little Thomas Kinkade Christmas ornament of a blue Victorian house that lit up when you flipped the tiny switch. I think it was something we sold in the gift shop at the farm, and I was inexplicably captivated by it. I kept it on my desk, studying the pitch of the roof and the front door when I got frustrated with my homework. I’d think, One day, this paper I’m working on won’t matter at all. I’ll live in that house with my husband and maybe a dog, and high school will be a funny, distant memory.
I still have that ornament. Hot cocoa in hand, singing along to Bing Crosby, I hung it on our Christmas tree this year and smiled. I have a husband and a dog and high school is definitely just a funny, distant memory, but we don’t live in a two-story, blue Victorian.
In fact, come December, we don’t even know where we’ll be living at all. But I feel a peace about that I never thought I would.
I thought home was this place you could buy. You could purchase enough throw pillows and rocking chairs and patio lights to make sure you had a sense for the word. When you were lost and someone asked where home was, you’d give them the address on your custom stationary. You’d say the blue Victorian on the street you love. The one with the white shutters and the tire swing out front. Take me home, you’d say, and you’d of course be trying to give directions.
I always likened finding Scott with coming home, as if he were my refuge from the storm of life.
And to a large extent that is true. But it’s not the whole story.
He is three states away right now, and I am still home. I miss him dearly, of course. His jokes and big footsteps and kisses goodbye in the morning. His little songs and deep laughter. My heart walks out the door when he does.
Yet there is still peace. There is still the sense that if I were thrust into a new country, alone, with a passport and a map, I’d be okay. Not Oh, I’d find the subway okay, but rather a deeper calm. I am scared but I’m also whole. I am lost but home isn’t my address. Which just might be my most valuable lesson yet. When Scott is gone for weeks at a time while we’re in Germany, it could just be my saving grace.
The blue Victorian could be in the cards one day. I might find myself at one end of a long dining room table, having dinner with grown kids, and winking at Scott at the other end. There might be a book laid next to a rocking chair on the porch, waiting for me to pick it up again. Deep down, I hope that future exists.
But that place, wherever it is, will still just be a place.
For home, I can’t seem to give directions.