Before Brandon’s death, I was very set in my ways when it came to the concept of home. While growing up, my parents and I moved around constantly; I never went to the same school for longer than two years. We weren’t a military family, just a family that moved around for better job opportunities and for cheaper rent. It was very hard for me to make and keep friends with the frequent moving. It was always a new school, new kids, and when I would find a way to adapt and make things work, it’d be yet another new school with new kids. And another. And another. I used to feel so jealous of the kids who have been living in the same place since they could remember, with their friends they met in kindergarten and were now in 4th, 6th, 8th etc. grade with. I hated always having to pick up and move, to adapt, to have new friends every year or two. All I wanted was to stay in one place and to have the same friends. I hated moving, I hated starting over.
So in my last year of high school, I went to live with my stepdad so I could go to the local community college and get a head start on the college experience through dual enrollment. Shortly after I would meet Brandon. Finally, in this town, I had good friends, I had Brandon, my family was nearby, and I never wanted any of it to change. Years later, Brandon would bring up the idea of moving away and I would always shoot it down. I didn’t want to leave. I finally found a place I could call home where I was stable and felt like I belonged. I never ever wanted to leave it. I was so sick of all the moving around we did when I was younger, I never wanted to do it again. I wanted roots, I wanted a place to call home. Staying or going was finally in my control and I never wanted to go again. So for years that’s what I would tell Brandon, and he would accept it.
Finally, in 2012, I graduated college and got hired at the hospital where I did my internship. The job was everything I thought I could ever want – my coworkers were great, I got along swimmingly with everyone, the job itself was just the right mix of challenging and comfortable. I felt like I belonged. So when Brandon brought up the idea of moving away again, I remember looking at him and telling him that I just found the perfect job, I couldn’t possibly leave now. In hindsight, I wish I had quit immediately and moved wherever he wanted to go.
About two months after that conversation about moving, Brandon was dead, and I was thrown into a new way of existing where everything I thought I knew would be challenged. As the months passed by in fog and pain, I remember having a very clear predominant thought: I had to leave. This town didn’t feel like home anymore…it would always be the place where Brandon died and where I became a widow. Reminders of our happy life together were around every corner, inside every restaurant. I had to pass by the funeral home his service was held in every time I drove to work. I couldn’t breathe here. The place I thought would be my forever home was starting to crush me under its enormous shadow of memories and regrets. I couldn’t breathe. The job I thought was perfect no longer was; I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. I felt empty and alone. It all felt so meaningless and unimportant. This home that was once such a comfort felt like a complete stranger…then again, maybe it was I who was the stranger, unable to recognize herself after the death of her husband.
So I started looking for jobs in other cities, some 100 miles away, others further. I needed to leave. It was the only thing I was sure of about my life at that point. I wasn’t happy here. I didn’t belong. Brandon’s death took away my home. I think Brandon was my home, I just never saw it before. And with him gone, this place felt empty. It was just a place. Why didn’t I see that before?
It was around this turbulent time, some eight months after his death, that I met Will and fell in love. As irony would have it, he was in the military and moving constantly was part of the job description. So when it came time for him to get new orders, I didn’t even hesitate. I put in my notice at the job I once thought I would never leave and I took a leap into the unknown. Leaving my hometown was a very bittersweet experience, but it always felt like the right thing to do. As soon as we got to our new house in Texas, it felt like a weight was suddenly lifted off my chest. I could breathe again. I didn’t feel suffocated by memories and regrets. I felt free. This was a new place and this was good.
When I do go back to my hometown to visit, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. I still find it hard to breathe there. I miss living close to my family and friends dearly, but I have yet to regret the decision to leave. It will always be the place where Brandon died. I can’t change that. The place that used to bring so much comfort now haunts me.
Moving away felt like the right decision. I haven’t looked back since. In the past two and a half years, Will and I moved to Texas, then to Florida, and now we’re getting ready to move across the country at the end of the month. So life has come full circle: it seems like I’m back to doing what I have always hated – moving every few years. But this time around, I’m okay with it. As a frustrated child I used to feel starved for a place to belong to, for a place to call home. It wasn’t until Brandon’s death that I realized that home isn’t a place. Home is the people you surround yourself with, the people you love, the people you share your life with. Home can be absolutely anywhere.