All my life I've been searching for a place to call home. I grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania a hop, skip, and a jump away from the New York border known as 'The Valley'. The Valley is an area of surrounding towns where everyone knows each other and gossip spreads like wildfire. In The Valley high school football team rivalries were worse than the Montagues vs the Capulets. If you're of age, a wild Friday night in The Valley is spent at one of the 3 (or 4, at most) local bars or bowling center. If you're not, your Friday night is probably spent drinking anyway, going to the local Walmart, or my personal favorite, flying down backroads blaring your favorite music with a car full of your best buddies.
Don't get me wrong, The Valley is not a bad place to live or grow up in. I believe growing up in the area I did, helped shape me into the man I've become today. I do not judge anyone for enjoying living in The Valley, it just wasn't for me. It never felt like home. I constantly felt a yearning for something more, some place greater and where I felt like I could fit in or find my place. 'Living' in the valley felt like I was forcing myself to wear two left shoes.
I've spent my years post high school graduation searching for a place to call home. My first attempt landed me in Edinboro, PA, near Erie, for my freshman year of college. I don't know why I ever thought that was a good idea, because snow is the bane of my existence. Next was Mansfield, followed by Bloomsburg, and back to The Valley before moving to Elmira, New York with my better half, Erin. Elmira was the closest to feeling 'home' I experienced in quite a long time, though at the time, I had no idea why.
Erin and I had always prodded the idea of getting out of the area with each other for good. We desperately wanted a place to start fresh, experience new things and sights, meet new people, have more opportunity, and get out of the same old same old day to day life The Valley had us trapped in. We spent countless days and nights doing our research for an area that would better suit us, and finally decided Florida would be our clean slate. We were determined to break free of The Valley life, even during a global pandemic, nothing would stop us. Weeks of planning, packing, and saying our farewells was bitter sweet, but I was more excited for what was to come.
On June 25, one month exactly before our two year anniversary together, we departed the little ol' Valley we once called home and set out for our newest adventure. Two days on the road, two hotel stays, and 1,017 miles later, we were finally in Tampa; our new home. The second I saw the "Welcome to Florida" state sign, a wave of relief washed over me. I did not have an explanation for it, but it felt right. I could now call the sunshine state my home, with my personal ray of human sunshine right by my side.
The next couple of months felt like vacation every day. We spent our anniversary at Universal Studios, picked up skateboarding, beach trips whenever we had the time, and even started cooking every night together, life was fun. The dream team became a trio on July 9 when we got our puppy, Waffles. This was the most 'home' I had ever felt. But, that all came to a halting stop later in September. Erin was feeling homesick and decided it would be best for her to fly home and see her family. Of course I was excited and happy for her, that she would get to reconnect with her family and friends, but a piece of me was also jealous.
The days leading up to her departure were soul crushing. I was riddled with anxiety knowing my other half would soon be leaving me for a week and I'd be all alone in a state 1000 miles away from everything I've ever known. My mind was acting as my own worst enemy and filling with thoughts like "what if she doesn't want to come back?" "What if she doesn't miss me?" I was dreading the upcoming week by my lonesome. I'm not going to lie, I was a wreck the morning I drove her to the airport. We said our goodbyes and as she turned to walk away towards her terminal, she took my heart and soul with her. I felt empty. It felt like my switched was flipped to 'auto-pilot' instead of living. The color was drained from my world, my favorite songs didn't sound as good as they once did. When I got home and walked through the door, Waffles kept watching the door waiting for her to come strolling in like she always did, he knew something was wrong and he was spot on.
I couldn't sleep in our bed all alone, just tossed and turned wishing the week were done and over with already. I laid awake staring at the ceiling, feeling like I was in a stranger's house. The familiar ache and yearning for more was back in the depths of my belly, that's when I realized that home isn't a place at all. Home isn't four walls and a roof over your head. Home can't be pinned on a map. Home is a feeling of safety, security, and stability. Home is where you can feel you can be 100% yourself without fear of judgment or resentment. Home is unconditional love and acceptance. Home makes you feel like you're invincible on the worst day of your life.
I thought I would find home when I moved 1000 miles away to a completely clean slate but it was ripped away when I was left alone at the airport terminal. To me, home is a blonde haired, blue eyed beauty with a smile that shines brighter than all the stars in the sky. My home is a petite girl who can pack away more food than a trucker and still ask for dessert. My home is Dorito crumbs left in bed because apparently Erin likes to exfoliate her legs while she sleeps. I realized it would never matter where on the map I was or where I laid my head at night, if I didn't have my girl next to me, I'd never feel home. She is the only thing in the world that has never needed an explanation to me. From the second I saw her, my soul was tied to her, and that had been clear now more than ever.
Phone calls and facetime dates were just enough to get me through, but they were just a tease to the real thing. My heart ached without her. I had to keep myself busy 24/7 because if I stopped moving long enough to give my mind a split second to think, I'd feel heartbreak from being so far away from my person. I felt each and every one of the thousand miles between us. Each day of the week without her each felt like a year, the seconds crawled on by slower than a paraplegic slug. The night before she came home felt like 10 Christmas Eves packed into one. I had never been so excited or looked forward to anything more than I looked forward to her arrival. I sped a little too fast to the airport but I was eager to have my home back. I pulled into the terminal she was waiting at and the second my eyes saw her I felt like I would jump out of my own skin. I could not get out of my car fast enough, completely forgetting the roses I had for her in my backseat. She jumped into my arms and I was home. For the first time all week my screaming and loud mind was now calm and serene. The color was back in my world and I felt like I could breathe again.
If you can relate to the words I've written, please know that you are so, so lucky to have also found your home. People spend their whole lives searching to find something or someone that makes them feel the beautiful and ethereal feelings I get just from being with my person. If you haven't, I pray you get to experience it for at least a portion of your life. When you find it, do everything in your power to keep it yours.