the longest i've ever lived in one place was a little stucco duplex at ft. bragg, nc. we moved there when i was 8. 1990. i remember it was like 3 weeks before school ended. and they made me go to the last 3 weeks of 2nd grade. at a totally new school. with the meanest teacher i've ever had. she didn't like my handwriting-and would tell me so, every single day. we lived in that same house until the end of 7th grade. 1995. 5 years.
the housing area (military speak for neighborhood) we lived in was safe, so we were given free reign to pretty much do whatever we wanted. just as long as we were in by the time the street lights turned on. we'd ride our bikes, pretending they were horses galloping through the fields. i can't tell you how many forts i built. or the 'houses' we made out of pine needles. or the number of times i almost fell off the rope swing and into the creek. every year on the last day of school we'd have a shaving cream/pine cone fight. i know. weird. we'd get off the bus, run to our backyards to get the cans of shaving cream our mom's had left out and go at it. when you ran out of shaving cream you just started throwing pine cones. i lived outside. we all did.
a week and a half ago i was back in the land of the pines. i hadn't been back in 16 years. i was there for a wedding. my first friend, jenna's, actually. we met when i was in 5th grade, she in 6th. she liked the boy who liked me. she told me that it was ok, and i could have him, because she wanted to be friends with me more than she wanted to date him. and 16 years later i stood next to her as she married the man of her dreams.
it was the most surreal thing-the whole weekend. most army kids don't have life long friends they keep in touch with. we hadn't seen each other since high school. it didn't matter. it instantly felt familiar. safe. like i had wandered into a dream. her wedding was at the college she went to, where we had gone to camp one summer. montreat college, nestled deep in the mountains. it was literally a dream. those dreams that you're not sure if you're awake or asleep. it seems too perfect for you to be awake...but its so real-you have to be.
her family loves well. really, really well. and it was all sorts of southern culture at its best. i'm sure i blew through all of the southern social cues. and i'm also fairly certain they didn't quite know what to do with a feisty red head from kansas city. but we covered those miscues and awkward moments with lots of wine and lots of food. and laughter. dang. i laughed more than i have laughed in a long, long time.
the last night i was there looked around the room. kids a few years out of college. retired generals who had fought in multiple wars. wives. sisters. mothers. brothers. friends. all playing the craziest game of catch phrase ever. harassing each other like best friends. like family. because we were. in the military your friends ARE your family.
as i drove down the mountain on the way back to the airport i smiled through tears. smiling at the scent of pines as i drove down the highway. smiling as i continued to remember stories about growing up with jenna. smiling as i remembered times with my family there. holidays. and vacations. and daily life. tears fell softly as i drove further and further away from a place that loved me well that weekend. that had always loved me well. they say you can never go home again. and i beg to differ.
granted, i'll be the first to admit that when the longest you've lived in one house is 5 years, your concept of home is gonna be pretty jacked. but when you breathe in deeply, mountain air and feel the most alive you've felt. and then exhale and feel like all the peace in the world is yours, that counts.
so a week and a half later i'm still reconciling it all. trying to figure it all out and trying to not think about it. untangling the strings. untying the knots. and then retying some. letting it be what it is. letting me be who i am.
(and wouldn't you know i didn't take one photo. shoot.)