The way we look at places sometimes gets distorted. Like the picture above, a pretty room can seem scary. I’ve moved many times in my adult life. From SC to AL, to CA, back to SC, to MD, to VA, back to AL, to several cities in AL, and lately to MS. This list is letters, not places. A bunch of moments, some good, some bad, but never a home moment. Why? Why has home been an allusive concept to me for so long? Does place matter?
I’m finding with age place becomes a meaningless conglomeration of roads and walls, but people, they are what makes a place become a home. In most of those moves, I had no control over where I lived or with whom I associated. Sometimes, there was no one. CA left me stranded on an almost completely abandoned military base with little means of meeting people. There’s a lot more to CA that is better left for another day.
When I moved to AL this last time, I finally felt like I was coming home. Briefly in SC, I journeyed to AL, vowing it would be my last move, though ultimately I was wrong and will remain wrong about that. Alabama, Cullman, West Point, home. That place became a place I loved almost as much as the little, golden county in which I advanced to legal age. I don’t want to say grew up, because I feel like that may never happen. A little piece of childhood always follows me around. Alabama became home because there I found my children, my new family, my husband, so many of the people I love.
Now, let’s talk about MS. To do that, I have to begin in 1996 when I decided I’d rather get married than finish my degree at the University of Alabama. Bad idea. I married someone who was in the Army and thus began my trek across the United States. Somehow, I was able to finish my BS in Computer Science right before my son was born. When I say right before, I mean I finished courses in the beginning of October of 2003. My son was ripped from my belly on the 25th of that month, and he attended my graduation in December dressed in an infant tux. That degree never got used really. I entered into my stay-at-home-mom-phase.
Then a few years ago I made some bad choices, accompanied by bad choices by others, and I got divorced. I call these the dark ages. They were dark because I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had to reclaim my name and then define who that girl was again. First I put the letters of my name back together, and began the process or reconstructing the girl I’d been in 1996. My future had to be remapped. I decided the woman I wanted to be had some letters before her name besides Miss, Mrs., or Ms.. Sitting in a rain darkened room in SC, I decided to re-enroll at the University of Alabama. I spent a year there, earning enough credit hours in English to apply for Grad School. From there, I gained admittance to UAH, right next to my kids. Eventually, I earned some letters after my name, MA. Then, it was time to start work on changing those in front of my name.
My new husband always knew this was my goal. He always knew that it could take me away from him for awhile, but he always supported me. So, after a few acceptance letters, I decided to become a doctoral student at UM. My first semester here was tough. Watching families move their kids into their rooms made my age throb in my aching back. Paranoia, impostor syndrome, regret, anger, sadness invaded my brain like a storm of termites.
I carried all of my stuff, baggage, up to the second floor in the oppressive MS heat. After I unpacked, I sat in an unfamiliar place completely alone, feeling sorry for myself, questioning my presence not just in MS but the world. In Building B, 2nd floor, Room D, in MS, the letters closed in again. I left a home that had a name with people I loved for more letters. Flashbacks of being forced to move to letters I knew nothing about or houses and apartments I didn’t pick burned the backs of retinas. Enter days of crying on the phone with new hubby, but through it all, I knew I had to be here, to be in MS. I had to make this work. For everyone, this had to work. This place of letters would give me the letters I desperately sought.
As the semester progressed, I relaxed. I took each hour by itself, forgetting for the moment the future and living completely in the present. I began to let people in. My age didn’t matter. The way I looked didn’t matter. These people care about my mind. They wanted into my research, my processing of knowledge, my brain.
Something strange happened, I made friends. Go figure. A community began to form in my cohort. This lettered place became a home, and not because I got used to the walls or the roads. The University of Mississippi became a family. My cohort learns together, laughs together, struggles together, cries together, and triumphs together. They do not replace my home in Alabama, but they make living here more than another set of letters to add to a checklist.
This year I regretted leaving my husband to come back to school. Summer was busy and wonderful. Nights lying next to my spouse are the only time I sleep deeply. I will see him in a couple of weeks, but it is never enough time. Even if I spent every waking minute with him, it would never be enough time. But I sit here in my room not in tears but content as I write this to you. And I see this place not as a distorted monster of letters and misshapen furniture but as home. I made this place home. I let people transform it from letters to words to images to feelings. If you are homesick, if you are lonely, stop holding yourself back from getting out there and meeting new people. Press stop on the tapes of your youth that tell you no one will like you, no one can love you, no one will understand you. Make them. Find people that will. Never stop searching for family. I’m lucky that I have two homes, and in a few more years, my life will come back together into one home. I home in West Point, Alabama and in Oxford, Mississippi, and I have two families, because I made a choice to.