One of my teachers liked to say that no matter where you go, you always bring yourself with you. This teacher, a Mr. Scott Dean, had a habit of throwing in life lessons along with the things that “might be on the test”. In this instance, he was trying to drill into us that we could change our jobs, house, what we wanted to do in life—we could even get kicked out of school and start over—but, if what we were really dissatisfied with was ourselves, if it was a quality in ourselves that was causing the problem, whatever it was might just repeat and repeat.
I have experienced “starting over” more often than most people—by the time I was eighteen, I had lived in twenty different residences and attended seven schools from 1st- through 12th-grade. Usually when I presented this information to anyone, the first question was always, “So are you an army brat or what?”
It was the latter. My parents were experts in moving away from situations they didn’t like. Whether it was a bad job market or a bad marriage, there was always a reason to pack up the U-Haul and drive off. As a result, I can safely say that I have at least been to, if not spent actual time in, most U.S. states. I am also well-qualified for the job of reaching into a backseat cooler to take out a peanut butter and honey sandwich for my mother as she drove. McDonalds and roadside fruit stands became all too familiar as did learning when to get out the plastic bag for our carsick dogs. When I was eight, our whippet Rosie became so chronically ill in any moving vehicle that the vet told us to give her Dramamine on the drive. Whenever we let her out of the car at a rest stop, she’d nearly fall over because she was so woozy from the drug. That aside, my parents would often try to make the move into a mini-vacation. After my father and mother divorced, she took me to Disneyland on our way to stay with family in Wisconsin; I remember more about being afraid of a forced “ride” on Space Mountain than saying goodbye to my father who at the time was still known as “Daddy”.
Because I attended so many schools growing up, I have friends from elementary and middle school spread around the country. My list of former best friends is a larger number than most people have for current acquaintances. My being able to adapt to new situations well is a quality that I do not take for granted; when I meet people who grew up living most of their lives in the same town, the same house, and went to school with the same group of people, I can’t help but wonder how they did it. After decades of moving, it’s hard for me to stay still.
Even in my current home of Manhattan, where the lights never shut off completely and where people are milling outside the cocktail bar next to my apartment until it’s late enough to be early again, I am caught thinking about the future: Where do I want to go next? Where and when will I find a place that will stay a home for a long time if not for good?
While it is now rare for a person to live in the same city, much less the same state, for most of their lives, moving, for anyone, no longer has to mean becoming a kind of pioneer. And me? I think I am the same person I have always been, despite all the places I have lived and, just as likely, because of them.
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