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I always want to be where I’m not.
Those words were spoken by my friend Eric a few years ago when I asked him what the meaning of home is and what it was like to have a home in two places. He had relocated to Asheville from Johnson City when I asked him that question and I didn’t truly know what he meant, but I’ve come to know the meaning of it in a whole new way in the last couple of months.
I, too, now have a home in two places.
Here in Northeast Tennessee where I’m currently attending college and on Oak Island in North Carolina, the place where I spent all my childhood and early adulthood summers. I’ve spent the last two years living there and have come to appreciate Mermaid Life — the serenity, the aloneness, the anonymity. The exploration of new restaurants, the laughter of friends, and meeting a man who taught me how to love again. He turned my world upside down in a matter of nanoseconds, but I am grateful for that because it’s enabled me to take myself off the bargain rack and finally recognize that I am worthy of an affection that isn’t accompanied by fear and trepidation.
It’s interesting when I reflect on it and look back at how I ended up on the coast of North Carolina in the first place.
I ran away from life in December of 2016 to grieve the deaths of three friends (Erik, Randy, Kara, in that order) and the loss of The Man Who Had My Heart. I slept. I colored. I took so many bubble baths that my skin shriveled. I walked the seashore every day. I started this blog. I spent hours upon hours in my favorite thinking spot, swinging the day away at the waterfront in Southport. So many good things came out of that decision to Run Forest Run. I don’t regret it, not even for a minute, because it allowed me to put the pieces of my heart back together again, even if they don’t quite line up the same way they used to.
I learned the meaning of enjoying my own company.
Of isolation. Of loneliness in the worst of ways. Of sitting with myself in the throes of grief and allowing it to just wash over me, no matter how uncomfortable it was. Believe me when I tell you it wasn’t pretty: there were days I didn’t get out of my pajamas and weeks that I didn’t leave the house my friend Kimberly owned. It was my fortress, my sanctuary, my place of comfort. It was going to become my permanent home, but even the best-laid plans fall down in mid-flight. It wasn’t to be, but I know the builder and he knows the floor plan. The only change I’ll make is that it will be seafoam green instead of blue.
I’ve returned to my hometown, albeit temporarily.
It’s easier for me to attend college classes here than driving back and forth all the time and my classmates are an amazing group of men and women who all have an incredible story to tell. I questioned my sanity when I withdrew from UNCW last July, but I somehow just knew deep down inside that I was supposed to complete my BSW at that college with those people. I still don’t know why I was led there except to say that I belong with them and that sense of belonging right now is everything to me — you can’t even imagine.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? You don’t follow, and I understand.
Most days I don’t follow either. But the irony is that I fled this beautiful place in the mountains to heal my heart and yet again, I’ve done the same thing, just with different characters and circumstances: I’ve come home to grieve. I’ve written about it multiple times already but have yet to put it out there. My friend and fellow-blogger Ben says those are the very blogs I need to hit publish on, but my heart isn’t ready to share that story with you. It’s sacred in some sense; private; gut-wrenching; too fresh yet.
Someday, I’ll share it, but not today.
Today, I am appreciative of having a place to come home to. I’m living with my best friend and her husband on a beautiful farm that overlooks miles and miles of rivers and hills. Snickers loves being a farm dog and has adopted his Uncle Chris as his most important person — I don’t even matter when Chris is home! He loves his walks with him in the pasture where he gets free-roam and extra cookies when I’m not looking. Snix never loved the beach, so it warms my heart to see him so happy and frisky again at the age of 13.
I am content here.
I feel fortunate to have a best friend who is more like my sister than anything else. She crawls into bed with me on the days I can’t bear to get up and we spend almost every evening down in the kitchen talking about everything from the plethora of Amazon packages I receive to the kind of gluten-free cookies she brought home. I love all the life in this house. The laughter that these walls soak up. The gift of being able to grieve within the confines of such a comforting place. Being included in family dinners. Going out once a week with Tracie and Chris, just the three of us, to gab and be together.
I am loved here.
I’m able to be with my inner circle again even though most of the time, I prefer to stay home. I’ve gained the opportunity to rebuild a new way of being with The Man Who Had My Heart. He’s finally the man I’ve always wanted him to be and because of our history, I’ve become a more resilient woman. We are infinitely better for each other, and for the first time in years, our therapist is proud of us for putting the past behind us, setting strong boundaries, and learning how to be real friends in a much different way than either of us ever thought possible. We’ve always had this sort of unspoken agreement to show up for one another no matter what, and we do, every single time. He’s helped heal the broken places inside me that nobody knows about; his mouth has never bruised me with unwarranted, hurtful words; and his hands have never hurt me — they have always only healed me.
I am sad here, but not for the reason you think.
My Mermaid Life is coming to an end much sooner than I thought it would. Next week, every belonging I have will be packed up in boxes and stored until I graduate in December. At that point, I’ll decide where I want to attend grad school. I’ll keep my North Carolina residency, visit friends frequently, and contemplate the meaning of life in that red chair I keep in my trunk while overlooking a vast ocean of waves in front of Serendipity, my childhood summer house. All is not lost, even though most days, it feels like it is. But for now, I’m learning to embrace the notion of always wanting to be where I’m not.