"In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger. He wished bitterly that his fortune had left him in the quiet beloved Shire."
-JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Sometimes I really chafe under the military lifestyle. I try not to and there really are so many things I am grateful for. But sometimes, it rubs against me like a pair of ill-fitting shoes. My husband and I have been discussing buying a home sometime down the road. On a submarine wives forum, a bunch of wives were talking about their home buying experiences. Some families have had great success buying along the way, either selling or renting out as they go. Some families have not had success and have suffered great loss. We've been renting for almost six years now and it is getting old, especially as we add more children in the equation. My husband wants to own his own house; I just hate renting. (We aren't confident that those are good reasons to jump into such a large investment-- haha!) Either way, we look longingly at our civilian friends who have bought homes and wonder what it would be like, buying a home in a community and planning to live there for years to come.
Before we had our first child, we talked about how sweet it would be to plant a tree, the same age as him and watch them grow together. Can you imagine, our sweet little man backing out of the driveway to pick up his prom date under the shade of his tree? But that will never pass. At each of our homes, we've had to move away from memories. Our very first apartment, where I waited as a newlywed for a lonely, silent month by myself before I heard word that his submarine had finally pulled into port. The same place that we decided to have a baby and where we brought home our firstborn son. (After this I moved with our son to my parents' house for seven months while his submarine changed homeports.) Our second home, a duplex in base housing. So many good memories in that home-- visiting family, birthday parties, brunches, dinners, girls' nights in, and carrying my phone with me everywhere I went, hoping for it to ring. Our third home, an apartment, where we decided we wanted another baby and were surprised with twins! I stood in front of our pantry door as my husband took pictures of my growing belly each week. We moved to our fourth home, another apartment, before we they were born. This is where we brought home our newborns and got a dog. Long days spent at home, loving on our three boys and figuring out how to get everything done. And now our fifth home, a rental house. This is where our toddlers learned to walk and our oldest learned to write. These walls have watched our children discover each other and the joys of brotherhood.
Our belongings bear the weight of preserving our memories. Our couch-- our first piece of furniture bought as newlyweds-- now sinking and sagging in familiar places reminds us of those early days, watching movies with our roommate and later sitting feeding and burping babies. Our kitchen table bears the scars from late night card games, children learning to use forks, and my many attempted art projects (people like me should not read Martha Stewart Living magazine). My books, which I have alphabetized and organized each place we've lived, have comforted me night after night, always present whenever I need them. But no matter how much sentimental value befalls our things, we know that the most important things aren't included in our household goods. This past PCS, our couch was packed with an open bag of individually wrapped chocolates. One of our bookcases was not emptied-- just wrapped in paper and packed stacked full of books (no, that does not bode well for the bookcase). We love our things; we just have to be able to let them go. Breathe in, breathe out, and fill out the proper paperwork to replace the damaged items. Create new memories.
And this is where I start to chafe. I don't want to always create new memories, or look for the bright side, or make the best. I want the memories I made. I want my kids to have those prized childhood possessions, whatever they may be. My heart will break in two when we, yet again, tear down my son's art work wall. I want that spot on the lawn that the grass never grows. I want my younger boys to have the teachers my older boys had. And the military friends we have made will never live nearby. Our friends' hearts-- who love us just as dearly-- wish for their hometowns, their dear ones, their own memories of the past and hoped for future. We met them on the road, fellow travelers in the military life. We clung to each other and made the best. Sometimes it is hard to realize how wonderful things were until you've said good-bye and are moving to the next assignment.
More than memories, I chafe under distance. My heart is in so many places and sometimes I ache with the number of people I miss and love. I want my kids to play with their niece. My friends' kids are growing up and I haven't seen them in years. Will these children I love even remember me after years apart? It will be starting over when I see them again. And I've never even met several of my friends' children. One of my girlfriends has toddlers-- toddlers!-- and I've never met them. I saw her last two and a half years ago. How does time slip away so quickly? I go through the day and long to share a good passage from a book with my literary girlfriend, over high tea, of course. I long to return the kindness of the most generous woman I know. I long for wine and long talks with friends I do not live near. There is so much to talk about! And time keeps slipping away.
I sometimes sit and think about what I can't have-- a home in a community with all my friends and family living nearby-- and I feel an ache in the center of my chest. But I don't need land. The earth and walls can't hold our families' memories. I don't need to see my friends every day, week, month, or year for them to be close to my heart. I don't have to hold my niece and kiss her whenever I want to love her. Friendship and love overcome all these things. Instead, I choose to look forward with longing and anticipation to the next time I see these people, when I can hug them and tell them, "It has been too long!" I choose to be grateful for the time we have now, for the good things we had in the past.
One day we will have a home, even if that is after retirement, and we will fill it with the memories we have made along the way. My hope is that those memories are good and that I did always make the best-- even when it was hard.