What does home mean?
“Unlike evolutionary change, which is incremental, revolutionary change fundamentally transforms our thoughts and beliefs. Rumbling with our story and owning our truth in order to write a new, more courageous ending transforms who we are and how we engage with the world. Men and women who rise strong integrate the key learnings that emerge from the rising strong process into how they live, love, lead, parent, and participate as citizens. This has tremendous ramifications not only for their own lives, but also for their families, organizations, and communities.”Brené Brown – Rising Strong
If you ask any service member or military spouse that have been on active duty for more than five years and still serving to describe home and one of two things will happen:
- They will remember it fondly as a place they always want to return.
- They will tell you that there is no home to return to, the family they created out here in the world is home now.
I was always the former. My memories of home were filled with a beautiful tree-lined city. The thoughts of loving family and friends comforted me when I felt lonely or ill. The military can be a cruel life to the servicemember, spouses, and especially the children.
While I was away I went through challenges I never thought I was capable of withstanding. And while you are enduring those things, you believe that once you make it through, things will be better. You will return home and appreciate things you never appreciated before. Suddenly it mattered that I had friends that knew me away from the uniform. It mattered that I had friends that would invite me to things and miss my presence. I missed weddings. Baby showers. My friends’ grew together and apart in my absence, some changed and many stayed the same.
And I was truly absent.
Home on the Move
I spent almost all of my time in the military moving. One of my random skills now is packing. I can pack any bag, box, house, truck, you name it. My husband and I have packed up and moved no less than 7 times in the first five years of our marriage. While I was active duty, I saw the world. I have had the opportunity to live in so many places for 3-6 month increments. A training exercise here or a field exercise over there. My time off was spent roaming castles, cathedrals, Holocaust museums or reading in the desert watching guys play basketball or video games.
We seldom had cable, or if we did it was communal. Everything was communal. I lived in conditions more squalid then I could ever imagine; I grew to prefer the freshness of being outside in the clean air. The military was an experience for sure, but the entire time you are telling yourself, ‘surely I can secure employment that comes with readily available restrooms for women’ and ‘maybe I can even get a gig where I don’t need to carry my own clothes on my back to get to the office’ or ‘my next job might not require pushups if I leave paperwork at home by accident’.
Well, it turns out I can.
But, the people at my new civilian job have mostly always had running water and restrooms and they are truly weirded out by my appreciation for the minute luxuries of a concrete and glass office building with a parking deck and five-star dining. (I am not exaggerating either.) But, let’s back up a little bit, before corporate America. Because this is not the first transition that rocked me, first it was leaving the service.
Home in Transition
The transition to being a military spouse is very interesting. It probably deserves a post on its own. I didn’t get out of the service and come back to the home I had romanticized, I became someone else’s home. Being a military spouse is very much like serving, especially after the kids come. But, you are serving in the dark. When my husband and I were dual-military (both active duty at the same time) I knew all of his co-workers. And they recognized me. I knew by name people that could help him get paperwork completed or help him overcome challenges. It was so easy to find him this or that. And I am sure for him, it was intrusive even if helpful. We frequently ate together, he was known in my unit to lend a hand if I worked past sundown. We were pretty inseparable for a while.
Being a spouse is much harder. Or at least it can be less rewarding.
Your active duty service member can become your only flesh connection to the outside world. When you move, that servicemember will have classes with his colleagues, events to attend, group runs to do. And you know no one or only the people you are comfortable meeting up with from some of the cool online groups. For us, we had one car and two bikes. So, even transportation for me was tricky. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make because when we sold my car I was pregnant with my daughter, our first child, and we needed the money.
Home in Tech
Just like that, I was cut off from the world outside of my computer and my cell phone. But, it ended up being okay. Why? Because the computer and cell phone brought home to me! I started my own FB group with pictures of me, my husband, and my daughter thinking that it might keep people feeling close to us. So many things are up in the air when your pregnant, maybe even more so with your first child. I really tried to tune in to those people and places I left nearly five years ago for security and at times it worked and at others, it didn’t.
This nugget is for my military spouses that may be thinking about leaving: They all have made up stories about you and your life. And by ‘they’ I mean your civilian friends and family. You might have decided to keep your struggles with your marriage to yourself. Well, then people will resent you because you have it all and still you ask for help. Or you could be open and honest about your problems with your marriage, but most people will look at your situation and find fault with you. As a matter of fact, for most people, it may be imperative that you talk about how you have messed everything up in order to get any help at all. And that can be hard because as many a military spouse can attest, we don’t know what went wrong. We were far away from the blast with the baby. All we know, is things are different. Our spouses are not coming home after work in the same way. The light has gone from their eyes.
Home ain’t here anymore.
When I was pregnant and away from Atlanta, I daydreamed about being there with people that I knew. Monthly trips for Mexican food or poetry readings and all this jazz.
Dreaming of Home
And sometimes, it’s necessary for survival. The early months of my daughter’s life felt impossible. I spent so many hours on the phone during those days trying to feel connected to someone. It was a hard time. There must have been a solid 18 month period where I didn’t even look in the mirror. Military marriages struggle just like civilian marriages except there is usually less support because no one is there to witness the carnage. We hit rock bottom, or so I thought. And I moved across the country to live with my friend in Washington State on pure instinct. And it was the right choice. She loved on me and my daughter in her own awkward ass way.
That probably should have been my first clue. I did not go to the ‘home’ i had made up in my head. I turned to the folks I met in the service. We all still operate like we are duty-bound and I called in a favor. I am blessed to have people I can do with because there are many times on my journey that my daughter and I might not have had something but that circle stepped in and provided whether it was a listening ear or just space to think.
So Atlanta was still a place full of love and support in my mind and I knew that I wasn’t ready to tell people about my marriage. Shame. I was imprisoned by shame and guilt. I had allowed our marriage to get to a place where my husband could make me feel worthless. So many people felt that I shouldn’t have married the man I did. His family. My family. It was so hard to face them and say that they were right, he isn’t for me. Pride is a sin for good reason. It’s blinding. And then there was the pain. The pain of losing someone I had invested a life in.
Pride and pain together are powerful.
So, even though I was low, more things had to fall apart before I found home. That’s the thing about rock bottom. You believe that you have hit it and really, you are just at the beginning. My dumbass moved back in with my husband. I had all the support I could have wanted in Washington, but all I wanted was him. Sigh. He said he would be different this time. And I wasn’t ready to say I wanted ME more than anyone else. (Did I tell you that our daughter smiles just like him?)
Texas. If you have read any of my other Meet the Curators then you know that we were living in Texas. I hate it there. Even though the margaritas were amazing and my daughter’s birth certificate will forever be in Texan. Moving back in with my husband hadn’t made things better if anything it was just worse. And there was no support, there was no help, there was absolutely nothing but strangers in a strange land. For the first time, I felt a little more privy to the immigrant experience in America. (A note: I was a foreigner in all the other places I lived too but I spoke English. And that meant I had money. So people treated me accordingly. Being black in south Texas with no friends meant that English didn’t matter. I was a foreigner. Period.)
God sent me some reprieve in the form of friendship but the only real solace I would experience would have to be achieved.
Saying it that way could make it appear that it was my choice but it wasn’t. Not really. And that’s all I wish to say about that. I believed that surely this was the end of my hole. This was rock bottom. I was sure of it! Whatever this event was that left me packing my things and trying to figure out how to provide stability for my daughter without her father… This HAD to be rock bottom. But, He said no.
So, my granny got sicker. She got so much sicker that the only time we speak now is in my prayers and when she visits my dreams.
Home is Gone
I lost her.
Forever. Until we meet again if God should take me to her. As I write this I feel her absence. She’s gone. And so I came to South Georgia looking for a home. I just knew that I had reached the bottom. I was in a terrible mental state so I did all I knew to do, I worked. Then I read. And I tried not to burden anyone with all the complications of me. Honestly, it was a nice vacation. The weather was beautiful and my daughter loved being in charge of the entire country yard that my grandfather owns. But this sucked. And that is an understatement. Even still, I knew all about the suck and how to get through that.
It was Joy that I was after, even in its messiness. And not even happiness, because that can be fleeting but joy and peace.
Work will set you free.
Whenever things go out of wack for me, my simple solution is to work and learn. Find the things you can control with your hands and control them. Find things you can control with your mind, and control them. So, in a matter of months, I had left or lost my husband, depending on the day, and I had absolutely lost my grandmother. But I had done some good work and learned a lot of seemingly random things.
I was in a state of limbo. And honestly, though I may have had a lot of places to go, at the same time I had nowhere to go but within. A shallow life was not cutting it for me.
Or grief could kill you.
Before she died, the family imagined I would be helping my grandmother get around to her appointments and making her and my grandfather’s food. Instead, he and I both sat around and tried to keep from seeing each other cry. My daughter was always bright though. Even though she fell ill a few times from starting daycare. Babies always keep the adults in the room watching, playing, fussing, distracted. I appreciate the baby stages for that.
Home in South Georgia
My biggest memory from living with grandad is her smell. I smelled my granny everywhere. It was like laying my head on her lap, feeling a cold breeze, and knowing it would never really be warm there again. I can’t describe the pain. But I know that a lot of people understand it and feel it too. Grief so thick you can’t even swallow. It’s like walking through a tidal wave while watching life happen on dry ground. My grandmother’s love was so stacked with action, prayer, and answers that in its absence, there was only silence.
While I lived in her home with her husband, I cried. Every night I cried for her and I cried for me. Is this what life had for me too? Would my grandchildren mourn me the way we mourned her? When? How soon? She was just so alive yesterday, giving me an attitude about being separated from my daughter. How is she gone? Did she love it? Did she love the life God gave her? She deserved to fucking love it. I know she loved God. But did life love her? She deserved to live a life that feels like the one I am building for myself. I don’t think that building that life will involve any fewer tears than trying to do whatever I was doing before. How much more life do I actually have to live? Can I love God and love my life too?
At Home in Pain
The weeks of her being sick and leaving us, I can’t even remember the details. Everything is awash with darkness and pain. But even with her gone, I still had not hit my rock bottom. I take that as a sign of my own strength and stubbornness. God was bringing me to my knees but I was fighting to stay on my feet. He must laugh at me often, but He made me that way. A fighter. And for good reason, I am sure, the world is hard but you can double that up for women and double again being black. And I like to carry books around, use my big words, and say weird shit. Throw in the stigma of any fluidity and well, let’s suffice it say that I learned my best bet was to fight at an early age. And I think that is because sometimes the alternative to fighting is drowning, that is until I found home.
So, even though I was teetering on the edge, I still wasn’t at rock bottom. But the scene had been set. I was raw, sensitive, hurting, and feeling invisible. And I could choose to close down and make a home here in this pain. It felt familiar enough and comfortable.
The funny thing is that I started Herstun way before any of this. And it was doing well, better than I could have ever dreamed. But, in its own way, it was already changing me. It demanded that I change the way I see myself. And that presents its own set of challenges, even though a change is exactly what I needed.
What does home mean?
Rock bottom was waiting for me in Atlanta. There is something about the beauty of living in the city of trees. And when I moved here, the weather was perfect. The sun shined and the birds chirped. But it was the absolute bottom for me. Because all the fantasies I had woven about fun friendships and supportive family rapidly started coming unraveled. It turns out that I had learned to be a blunted version of me for a very good reason. And while I thought leaving my husband was the inciting incident in my journey, it was just a bump in the road. You can’t expect anything from anyone but yourself. So if you want something done, you best be able to do it.
It was BEING home that would shake me to my core. And it is learning to LOVE home that has changed the fabric of who I am. After all, I am not just from any ole where y’all. I’m from Atlanta. And It’s good to be back. Because here is the true wild card, I am my own stability.
I am my own home.
And even understanding that has not solved the myriad of troubles I will continue to face.
But it has made me feel so damn free. And at home. Where ever that may end up being.
To My Granny, I miss you. And I want to see you again one day. Now as you know, my mama raised me well. But GRANNY, I don’t want to go to heaven without raising HELL!
Written By W.D. Herstun. Inspired by Brené Brown.
Companion Track – ‘Raising Hell’ By Kesha
Obviously, this was deeply personal to write. But, being home has been such a deeply inspiring experience, even in its difficulties. So many people know who you are, so many more people know your parents. Inevitably, they see them in you. And it’s so crazy because the entire journey of life appears to be a journey on the way to knowing yourself. In the service, even as a spouse, I redefine that every time we re-locate. Being at home means that you are suddenly surrounded by people that ‘KNOW’ you. It can be a setback to encounter people with a view of you that spans decades and not just military terms. It’s both humbling and shocking. It tore me apart, but it brought me back together stronger. It gave me an environment to establish new boundaries and receive new criticism. And I can’t even be mad at God, because I PRAYED FOR THIS. I asked Him to move me and He answered.
The father of my child and I have been through a lot. I commend him because I am not an easy woman to love.
woman human is?
I have faith that together we can still be something beautiful. But, either way, I am already on the way to re-writing my future.
And that is the key.
“Day two, or whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re in the dark — the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light. In my work with veterans and active members of the military, we’ve talked about this dark middle. They all know it as ‘the point of no return’ — an aviation term coined by pilots for the point in a flight when they have too little fuel left to return to the originating airfield. It’s strangely universal, going all the back to Julius Caesar in 49 BC… Whether it’s ancient battle strategy or the creative process, at some point you’re in, it’s dark, and there’s no turning back.”Brené Brown, Rising Strong
A lot of people do not know, but I started Herstun well before the turmoil as a site to keep writing samples. I ended up allowing it to grow and blossom around me faster than I dreamed. Last year, I was just trying to keep it alive. I was battling with my own idealistic visions for the site and the visions of people around me. This year will be about creating a space on this wide web to just be me. I hope people still come to join me here (Lord knows folks are welcome here.) But my focus is different. There are so many fun things planned for 2020. I think that the right people for my journey will find me along the way or I’ll find them. Hell, they could be following all this time.
I am knee-deep in day two, dogging it out in the middle, and loving every single heartbreak. Thank you for giving me the language Brené.
Bring it on, baby. Now drop it down low where the Good Lord split it.
I am finding Personal Power to be an important part of my journey. And you know that music is a big part of my life. I have created a four-song Power Playlist to get back into jogging with. I always add one or two songs as I get stronger. Enjoy!