I remember a good friend of mine telling me that her sophomore year of college she went home every day for a week. That confused me, knowing she lived less than 20 minutes away from school and paid an astronomical amount of money to live in the dorms. Why go home without a good reason? She replied, “Not everyone’s like you. Some of us actually get homesick.”
She was right.
I didn’t understand how people could get homesick until it happened to me.
Out of all the things I experienced in my life, homesickness wasn’t one of them. Most people haven’t lived in five states over the course of 21 years. I’ve packed up and moved every four years, never calling a single place home.
I still don’t know how to answer when someone asks “Where are you from?” That’s the life of a military brat for you.
For everyone confused as to why I’d openly call myself a “brat,” it’s actually a term of endearment used to describe the children of military officers and the spunk and spirit they usually possess. But we aren’t born with this innate sense of adventure and independence. It’s usually thrust upon us at an early age and we learn to adapt quickly.
I remember our first move. I’d just finished first grade and made my first real friends. One day, my parents asked me if I had ever heard of a state called Virginia. No, what’s it like? Oh, it’s beautiful they told me. And near the beach! I thought it would be like a trip to Disneyland.
But when my parents told me we weren’t coming back to Montana, I cried for the months up until we moved. That was the first time I realized nothing was permanent. I learned to get comfortable with that. I dare say that I even enjoyed it.
So when it came to applying to colleges, it was no surprise all of mine were out-of-state. California was my goal. I felt ready to get out of the sleepy Pennsylvania town we called home for eight years after my dad’s retirement from the military.
But no one else was. My friends applied to in-state schools with no intention of ever leaving the 50-mile radius of their hometowns. I found myself frustrated with that mindset. Again, I asked why. Why didn’t they want to leave and explore the world? They felt content with what they had. But I wasn’t.
I grew up in an environment so drastically different from what many people know that other people’s lifestyles seemed foreign and strange to me. What seemed to set me apart would soon be my downfall.
Acceptances soon rolled in and I got the opportunity to go to school in California.
Now everyone asked me why.
How could you go so far away? Isn’t that expensive? What’s the point? To me it felt no different than any other move. I’d wrap up my time there in four years, ready to move somewhere else.
But what about your parents? Won’t you miss them? Of course I would! I love my parents, but I was already used to not seeing them much. My dad worked long hours. Once he spent six months deployed overseas. My mom worked, too. I had no siblings so I got very used to being alone. I didn’t see that as a bad thing. I believed it grew my independence which allowed to me take opportunities like this without fear of loneliness or homesickness.
Spoiler alert—I was wrong. Very wrong.
It happened during the hardest finals week of my college career. I hated my major and my classes. I worked more hours than I could handle, and I couldn’t remember the last time I slept. I gave up trying to write one of my papers and moped around my dorm in the wee hours of the morning when I felt it.
That little feeling deep in your chest—the desire to go home. To sleep in your own bed, to not be disturbed by roommates or noisy neighbors, to eat a home cooked meal and just feel at peace.
The next day, I found myself picking up the phone and calling my mom. Not to tell her about another celebrity spotting on Sunset or ask how to wash colored clothes, just to hear her voice.
After her usual greeting of “What’s up?” I didn’t have much to offer other than “Nothing. How are you?” I don’t think she expected that since her response came out as a surprised, “Oh. I’m good. Are you?”
BAM! Tears. Combined with the lack of sleep and coming off the copious amounts of Red Bull from the night before, I was a ticking time bomb ready to explode with all sorts of emotions.
After that night, I came to realize that, for me, home wasn’t a single house, town or geographic location. It was my family. Ok, I know how cheesy that sounds but it’s true. I hadn’t spent much time in one particular place but I always spent it with the same two people. Now that they lived all the way across the country, I missed them a whole lot.
All those years of never understanding (and I admit, maybe even scoffing a bit at) how quickly kids went from savoring every bit of their first taste of freedom to sobbing in the dining hall and calling home, I finally got it. (And yes, the dining hall part is based on a true story…and yes, it was me).
With all that said, I’m proud of my background and how I grew up, I wouldn’t change it for the world. This lifestyle is so ingrained in me that it would be too hard to change it anyways, but this experience came as a wakeup call.
I think I’ll always be independent, but now I realize that there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to leave your lifelong home or missing your family. Sometimes a little dependency is a good thing.