When we were getting ready to move to Louisiana my brother told me that moving out-of-state “gives you a new perspective of what Home means.” While that may have been true for him after living out of state after college, I didn’t for an instant believe that would be true for me. It’s been almost four years since leaving Florida, and I don’t feel any renewed connection to it being my home now than I did four years ago.
Toward the end of eighth grade my father was offered a job in a small town in Georgia. My parents considered taking it enough that they brought it to my brother and I and asked what we thought. I begged them to take it. I pleaded with them to move us. I didn’t care that it was a smaller town. I didn’t care that I’d miss high school with my friends. I was scheduled to sing at Carnegie Hall the following year with my choral group, and I didn’t care that I’d miss it. I didn’t belong in Florida and wanted out. They didn’t agree and ended up not taking the job.
Fast forward to being married with three children. I was finally leaving Florida. In all the years I’d dreamed and planned of leaving Florida, Louisiana was never on my radar. I really wanted to be in Oregon or Washington or Maine. Louisiana wasn’t where I wanted to be going, but it would be a temporary stop on the way to wherever. It was a good job opportunity; the plan was to stay a few years, take a cut of the oil industry, and leave, which is essentially what we have accomplished.
We moved to Louisiana in April and by the end of December I’d made five trips back to Florida to visit. Five! The last trip that December of 2014 was unexpected; my dad had emergency open heart surgery two days before Christmas. The following year I went back twice. Each trip took more and more out of me. Each time I rolled into town and caught a whiff of the paper mill I was ready to turn around and go back to Louisiana…not that the smell of the bayou is any better. In January 2016 I went back to hold my grandfather’s hand while he passed. It was something I knew I needed to do, and I’m thankful to have been there for him and my family during that time.
This week we are traveling back to Florida for the final time in the foreseeable future. I’ve been overwhelmed with anxiety about this trip. There’s a knot in my stomach I’m trying to unravel. Planning and packing for this trip has forced me to face my truths about Florida and my future, truths that I need to say out loud.
First, I’ve told my family and friends this will be our last trip “for at least three years, aside from emergency or death.” The truth is this will be our last trip aside from emergency or death, period. And that doesn’t include all deaths. My grandmothers don’t need me, or anyone, to hold their hands as they cross into their next life. They are strong, fierce women who, I believe, have never truly needed another human being.
When the time comes for my parents, when they need a caregiver, that is something I want to be for them. Having been a parent for over a decade I have spent plenty of time thinking about what kind of relationship I want to have with my kids when they are adults and what I hope I can count on them for when the time comes. Thus, I have also given considerable thought to what my role will be for my parents. My mother has made it clear that she wants me to go and live my life without worrying about her. “Put me in a home,” she has said on multiple occasion. But we are far from having to make decisions like that for my parents. They have spent the last year and a half of their new retirement becoming world travelers. They are in their Golden years, and I am raising children in the wild. They aren’t going to need me for at least another ten years, if not longer. That’s not to say we won’t ever see them; there’s already been discussions of them visiting us during our travels.
Second, every trip I have made back to Florida the last few years has been for the kids, not me. I want them to know the home of their grandparents. I want them to make memories there. I want them to remember and make memories with their friends there, friends who were their first friends and are still their best friends. I’ve had good times during our visits, but mostly, by the time we arrive I’m ready to leave. I want to sleep in my bed. I want to watch my tv. I want to lay in bed with my three cats and two dogs surrounding me. I want to put on my headphones and get lost in a book while cooking. These are my comforts, my safe zones, and being unable to grab hold of any of those safety zones cranks up anxiety and makes me edgy with no outlet or retreat.
Going back to Florida to visit has become an obligation, but I am not obligated to go back to visit any more than people are obligated to come visit us in another state. Even this trip is drenched in obligation. We didn’t go for any holidays last year, and this is the last year we will be this far south. We need to go to give the kids and our families that closure. But this isn’t a closure I need. My book on Florida has been closed for a few years now. I don’t feel any connection or longing for Florida. It isn’t home.
Louisiana isn’t home either. The house I’ve made for us here has been a home, but the place – the city, the state – has never been home. So, where is my home? I couldn’t tell you a specific place. In a few short months we will set out on a full-time RV journey that will take us all over the US and Canada, and I wonder if I’ll find a place I want to call home. But I don’t think I will. At least, not any time soon. For me, home isn’t attached to a place or people. Home is where I can be myself fully and completely, drinking milk from the carton (or whisky from the bottle), making BLTs at midnight, watching C movies, letting yellow mellow, sleeping naked, and every other ridiculousness I can’t do anywhere else because it would be bad manners…and gross, to be honest.