I’m writing from just this side of “later,” almost two months on the other side of “out,” and I’ve got to say… I’m still waiting for that consistency to kick in. For the dream to be realized. For the mattress to come. There is going to be an “after,” it’s on its way, but as is often the case, “after can get a little lost (like that moving request that delayed your movers and your HHG). Technically I’m on the other side of military life, but there are still traces. Our HHG were stuck in Arkansas for six weeks, and they’re currently somewhere between Little Rock and New York. We’ve lived that hotel life, kicked ourselves for things we didn’t self-carry, and are still driving around our new town, trying to call it “home.”
The word doesn’t quite roll off the tongue yet. Sometimes it gets stuck.
We do have a place to live, and for that I’m truly thankful. It’s going to be beautiful, and it’s going to see us through the phase of our lives. Even from an air mattress on the floor, that’s abundantly clear. But there’s a difference between a house and a home, just as there’s a difference between visiting a place next and living there. I don’t know how long it will take for me to stop feeling like a visitor, to know that this is where we’re meant to be. It’s like those first few weeks after a deployment, when my husband and I moved through our lives grateful, but ever-so-slightly out of step.
Even when you know you’ve made the right choice, there can be a longing for what you knew. At least then there was a version of “right” or “normal” that you could carry around in your head. With the known, you have coping strategies, and maybe even a close friend or two to see you through. When you’re tossed into a new place without any of those structures, it’s natural to want to burrow down (even if your burrow is a mattress on the floor, and you’ve started to wonder if you could consider paper towels a form of bath linens to avoid the laundromat before your HHG arrive).
And yet. This is going to be your home. There are people out there that you are destined to meet—people who will sustain you through the next chapter of your life. There are places that will become “yours,” routes that will become familiar, and events that will become traditions. You will have a chance to revisit dreams you laid aside. You could even order one of those stamps with a return address on it for the very first time.
If you’re in a place that doesn’t feel quite like home, or if you’re feeling out of step, that’s entirely normal. There’s a reason we’re supposed to be “transitioning” out of military life. From a grammar perspective, the “ing” at the end of “transitioning” means that it’s an ongoing process, a series of shifts over time. In the event that you need a friendly wave from across the miles, and a suggestion or two from a friend to get you through these shifts, consider me your friend. I’m waving to you from New York and sending the things that are keeping me tethered to this new post-Army life:
- Find something beautiful in your new town. I know, it sounds silly compared to the other big things that need to be done. But seeing something really beautiful can take you out of yourself and the mess of moving. Does your new street have lots of neighbors who garden? Take a walk and appreciate their work. Are there state or national parks near your new home? Go there and feel smaller—they’ve been there longer than you have. The world keeps moving forward, and you will too. Do you live near a museum or a botanical garden? The waterfront? See what’s out there, get lost in it for a while. You may find your new favorite spot.
- Get a cup of coffee (or tea, or insert favored beverage here). Find a spot that’s close to your new home where you can grab something for a quick pick-me-up, and know you’re going to feel good afterward. It’s reassuring to know you have an option like that in your back pocket… almost like you live there and know what you’re doing.
- Get your new library card. Enjoy the freedom of new books, new films, new music, and a new space you can get to know relatively quickly. You can even make conversation with the person who processes your card, or someone you meet while finding a title. Bring home a stack of plunder (I’m currently re-reading some childhood favorites) and pat yourself on the back. You put down a root.
- Write a letter. Send a note to a friend, a family member, someone you met a few times… you choose. Maybe you know someone who’s just PCSed, or who is going through a hard time. Maybe you have nieces or nephews, cousins, or old neighbors with kids who have just started school. Send them a letter and I’m willing to bet you’ll get one in return. It’s a great day to go to the mailbox and find something other than bills, forwarded mail, or circulars addressed to “resident.” Bonus points for writing kids—they often add pictures to their letters, and they are delightful.
- Now that you don’t have to get your new home set up for the next two years in a week or less, you may find that boxes stick around a little longer (and that they can make you crazy). Find a way to get one spot looking beautiful. Not just normal, but really pleasing to you. It will make a difference if you can focus on that spot when everything looks like a mess. It’s a visual promise of things to come.