I have moved or been deployed every year of my adult life (except for two glorious stationary years in Germany). In fact, moving is the single constant in my transitory life. If this were a dystopia and I were a teenager hell-bent on saving a fast-dying world, the title of my coming-of-age memoir would be “The Girl Who Always Leaves.”
A glance at the calendar tells me that not only is it my birthday, but I have just 6 months left here DC. Such is my life — there’s always a fast-approaching end date for me. A ticking clock like the one that haunts Captain Cook echoes my every step. I live always in the in-between, the space between moves, not quite future and not quite here.
1. Annapolis —> Monterey (1 year)
2. Monterey —> Japan (10 mos)
3. Japan—> Charleston (6 mos)
4. Charleston —> Saratoga Springs (6 mos)
5. Saratoga Springs —> Norfolk (17 mos/7 mos deployed)
6. Norfolk — Stuttgart, Germany (2 years)
7. Stuttgart —> Newport (6 mos)
8. Newport —> Hawaii (13 mos/7 mos deployed)
9. Hawaii —> Norfolk (15 mos/ 9 mos deployed)
10. Norfolk —> Monterey (6 mos)
11. Monterey —> Columbus (1 year)
12. Columbus —> Jacksonville (1 year)
13. Jacksonville —> DC (1 year)
14. Misc Dahlgren/San Diego Crew and Hull swaps (6 mos)
Moving so frequently has been mostly instructive. I’ve can set up and decorate a place, find friends and community, and settle into brief bouts of happiness in the shortest time possible. I can pack my entire life into 500 square feet and six months like one of those people who packs an entire vacation’s worth of clothes in a carry on. It’s a talent. I also know the fastest ways to disentangle myself and move on without ever looking back. I am an expert at goodbyes.
“I’m only here for a year or six months,” I announce to the new church that I’ve started to attend or the new friend I’ve just met at a book talk or the volunteer opportunity that asks for a year and a half commitment. “Is a year ok?” I ask, putting my name on a list. I announce the same thing to the good-looking person/persons who I’ve found/have found me through whichever strange wormhole (normally facebook) where I meet people.
My announcement is both truth-telling and setting expectations. You can depend upon me….but only for this amount of time. “Don’t fall in love with me or anything like that and I won’t do that to you.” And a deal is struck. I am the Queen of not-serious, not-dating, not exactly anything situationships.
To be honest, it always seems unfair to ask someone to love me for a such a short period of time. If I am the Girl Who Always Leaves then that might make them — some potential partner– The One Who Gets Left Behind, and that, is never a good position (I’ve been told) to be in.
So, I’ve learned to love small, like Paul D. in Toni Morrison’s Beloved:
“The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one.”
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
I’ve learned to squeeze love —ok like– into short blocks of time. A weekend in the oldest city in America, a random visit by the cub, dancing moments with a girl who may as well live in another city for the distance between us. I settle for crumbs of love, for no expectations, for being nothing special to no one in particular. I ask no one for their heart. I take zero risks.
“So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother- a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia.”
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
When I made the list above of all the moves I’ve undertaken over the last 16 years, I meant to show how difficult love can be for a the Girl Who Always Leaves. But as I looked at the list, I realized that I’ve found love in every single place that I have moved. Love that lasts across geographical boundaries and work-imposed time limits. There’s a Canadian BFF who will drive 40+ hours from Canada to pick me up in Atlanta so we can celebrate the 40th birthday of our Coven. There is Dr. P, my salsa dancing BFF from Norfolk. There is Hawaii BFF and the Stuttgart crew and more others than I deserve. There are people who have agreed to love me, who find me lovable, who do life with me despite the looming deadlines of an (always) impending move.
In looking at my list, I realize that I’ve been selling myself short all along. There’s no expiration date on loving anyone. There’s no need to settle for sweet nothings when a world of love is possible. Moving complicates things, but that doesn’t make it impossible or not worth the risk. Paul D. explains it like this:
“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose— not to need permission for desire — well now, that was freedom.”
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
I’ve always treated the countdown to my next move as a prohibition to love — a foreboding veil that makes me difficult to love. But what I realize, perhaps a bit late in the game, is that I’m worth the risk. Love is worth the risk. And when you can choose to love someone despite all the reasons around you not to (like a world that seems on the verge of burning down or a move across the ocean), “well now, that was freedom.”
Here’s to more love and freedom in my future.