“Where are you from?”
There’s nothing more stress-inducing than when I get asked that question, whether it’s in a casual conversation with someone I’ve just met or part of some torturous icebreaker exercise in class. Do I say “everywhere” and rattle off all the places I’ve lived, making them sorry they even asked? Or do I simply say the most recent place, even though my parents only moved there a few years ago and I’ve only really visited?
I used to tell the full story, with pride. I’d tell the well-intentioned stranger that I’ve been lucky enough to live all over the world and see things that most people only get to read about. Many are interested, or at least pretend to be, as they ask me about the coolest places I’ve lived or the different languages I must have picked up. However, there’s always at least one person that says “Oh, that must have sucked.”
Sometimes it did. I have no pictures with my family from my high school graduation because my dad was deployed and couldn’t be there. It just didn’t feel right to have photos that didn’t have him in it. When I was seven years old, my family got stationed in Italy. We lived there for six years; it was the longest I ever stayed in one place. Toward the end of my Freshman year, we prepared to leave again. I don’t typically get emotional during goodbyes, it’s just easier that way. However, now I wasn’t just leaving the amazing food, culture and experiences I had there, I was leaving my best friend.
It took me a while to make good friends in Italy, and I only met Maddy, a true friend, right before I left. We bonded over our curly hair and embarrassing mutual love of “Glee.” I remember stepping onto the airport shuttle and waving to her through the window. As the bus drove away, I couldn’t help but break down in tears, something I never do at goodbyes.
I never felt more alone than during the summers after I moved. I had my family, whom I love, but with every message or update from my old friends, the knot in my stomach grew tighter. My friends were moving forward with their lives, and I was standing still, stuck in the past.
My mom saw how depressed I became and told me, “Remember that you’re not saying ‘goodbye,’ you’re saying ‘I’ll see you later.’” I did just that. Every friend, acquaintance, boyfriend or teacher got a “see you later.” One of those relationships has lasted throughout the years; everyone else has become a memory in a scrapbook.
Everything changed when I moved to Guam at 15. I had always been an average student up until that point: Bs and Cs. Sophomore year was a turning point. I was new to the school and didn’t make many friends that year. My mom worked constantly, my dad was deployed again, and my brother was busy with his own life. I had no choice but to focus on school. I quickly became one of the top students in my class, becoming friends with my fellow Advanced Placement sufferers. I was starting to get the hang of things, finally feeling like I fit in.
There was still something missing. I loved to write and always did well in my English classes. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed direction, like I needed impact. One thing they never tell you about moving around so much is that you develop this need to leave a mark on each place you visit. Some find it in their friends they make or the sights they see. Me? I found it in journalism.
As a way to get a feel for what kind of writing I wanted to do, I joined my school newspaper. I only wrote trashy teen romance novels up to that point, which are to this day one of my biggest guilty pleasures.
I can still remember my first article. I wrote about a new anti-bullying club at school and how it was going to impact the student body. While seeing my name on a byline in an actual newspaper was a thrilling experience, it wasn’t until people came up to me to comment on my article that something awoke inside me — the impact I was looking for.
Writing fiction fueled my imagination but writing journalism fueled my soul. Not only was I writing something I could make a living from, but something that could also directly impact the lives of other people. I had never experienced such a rush of power and fulfillment.
I knew from that moment on that no matter where I went, I would always have writing to push me forward yet keep me grounded. Everything in my life has always been up in the air. I never knew whether a “see you later” was actually a concrete “goodbye,” but I finally found the consistency I craved in writing.
I quickly rose through the ranks at my school paper, nabbing the title of managing editor by the end of my sophomore year. Although I loved editing and helping other students find their passion and stability in reporting, like I had mine, I began to miss writing more and more.
My teacher threw opinion pieces at me which I happily wrote, but I grew more and more restless as the year went on. I wanted more. I talked to her about how I felt and she introduced me to a local program called VIBE.
VIBE was an internship run through a local Guam paper. It gave student reporters the chance to become regular contributors to a newspaper out in the real world. I can still remember how excited I was, how I jumped up and down in the newsroom with my teacher when I found out I was accepted into the program. This was my chance to impact an even bigger community, to write again. Throughout my senior year, I wrote about teenage issues, mainly my thoughts on prom and the SATs. While it wasn’t exactly hard hitting, it was my chance to get my foot in the door.
A few months into my internship, I wrote and thought about one thing: college. Living thousands of miles away from the continental U.S. meant not being able to tour schools. On top of this I still didn’t know where my family was heading next.
I had my pick of the globe: Would I stay overseas and attend a community college for a few years, or venture out on my own and embrace the unknown?
I decided to focus on journalism, scrounging through every college match website to try and find the right fit. Eventually, I found my way to Western: a small campus with an excellent journalism program, perfect.
Despite being almost positive about my decision, when my dad’s options for his next duty station came in, I hesitated.
Hawaii or Washington were his options. Fear sunk in as I realized I might spend the next four years an ocean away from my family, alone. I wasn’t ready and I got the feeling they weren’t either.
Choosing Hawaii meant staying on an island: warm weather and a much less stressful job for my dad, as he wouldn’t have to work on a ship.
Choosing Washington meant a complete change of lifestyle, as none of us had lived in the states for almost a decade. It also meant my dad would be deployed, out at sea during the chilly winter for six months.
My family had everything to gain moving to Hawaii, but my dad has always been selfless. He pulled through months of deployment and a year of shipwork so I could afford to go to the school of my dreams (with in-state tuition) and remain close to my family.
My parents bought their first concrete “forever home” in Washington. For the last three years, I’ve attained the stability I always craved. I spend my weekdays in Bellingham pursuing my passion. On the weekends, I travel down to see my parents and my brother who only live a few hours away.
When I think back on all the wonderful places I’ve traveled and lived in, all the amazing things I’ve seen, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. For every person I said goodbye to, I’ve grown stronger.
My dad finally retired. There will be no more chaos, no more missed holidays or birthdays. He will get to see me receive my diploma this year, and I will finally get the typical proud family photo. I reunited with an old friend too. Maddy and I are now roommates after more than five years of long-distance friendship.
While I’m thankful for the stability, one thing never waivers. The world is ever-changing, and I refuse to stand still. I will always desire to be a part of the craziness and leave my mark. I can thank the military for that.
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