I looked at the calendar a couple of days ago and realized, with some surprise, that I have lived in Florida now for nearly three years. I can still remember what it felt like to get off of the plane that carried me from Kentucky to Atlanta, with three thousand dollars in my checking account, no job, no apartment, nothing except a car that I’d bought that was waiting for me in Florida. It was still more than I’d had seven months before that – seven months before that had me sitting, freezing, in a basement, playing World of Warcraft so that I didn’t get too bored while I waited, desperately for a phone call for a job. I’d gotten the job in Kentucky. It had given me enough money to make a fresh start elsewhere. I took it.
Three years later, I find myself sitting in a fairly large apartment, with vaulted ceilings, in the land of eternal summer. The beach is at my fingertips (though I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been there since I moved here). The sun shines the majority of the time. I have a job that pays better than I ever could have dreamed (or ever could have had if I’d stayed in Kentucky). I have, essentially, everything I ever wanted – at least materially – and I found it all within a couple of months of moving. Moving may not solve all your problems (case in point, I am still single, with no legitimate prospects), but sometimes a change of scenery certainly helps.
That’s not to say it’s not hard sometimes. I am, essentially, down here by myself. When I got very sick this time last year, I had no real support system – aside from Gatsby/3.0 who made me feel as if the proposed tumor was more of an inconvenience for him than a serious issue for me. My parents, family, sister, everyone lives 1000 miles away. A two hour plane trip, yes, but a sixteen hour drive. Some days I like it that way. Other days, like when I’m sick, or on the holidays when it’s not so easy to just fly home so that I don’t have to sit here, alone, it’s hard. And while I don’t let it show, I do get homesick sometimes.
Kentucky was not, by any means, all roses and daisies for me. But still, there are roots there. Roots that go deep. And they’re undeniable. I sit here, in Florida, in front of my television, in front of my computer, with my cat. I sit here and I talk about these menial things that I’m doing in my life. I sit here and I chat with my friends (most of whom still live up north) and I Skype with others. And fairly frequently, I’m asked why I don’t just move home… or at least to Nashville… or maybe back to Louisville. The fact of the matter is, I simply don’t want to.
Truth: visiting there is fun. Going house to house, seeing people I don’t get to see very often, it’s like a big party all the time every time I get off the plane and get in my rental and drive the two hours to the little town. It’s a nice change – a welcome change, really… to go from almost constant solitude to having people around me all the time. There’s home cooked food. And the air there is clean. There’s no smog, the stars go on for miles, and when you go outside you can hear frogs and crickets… sometimes a coyote. You see deer literally everywhere – which can be a bad thing if you’re driving.
And of course there’s my family, too. My mother who loves to cook and who swears up and down that she never gets tired of me visiting. And my father whose laugh is the best sound in the world to me sometimes (even if it’s from 1000 miles away, on the phone). I do my best to get them to laugh. When my father laughs… my little corner of Tampa gets a little bit brighter (if that’s even possible). There are my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my sister, my best friend. Lots of catching up to do, and it seems like we never really do seem to get completely caught up before I have to get on the plane again – though we certainly try as we work through the multitude of restaurants I absolutely have to hit up when I am there.
There is all of that… but then there’s Florida. So many years I wanted to move here. I can remember sitting in my house as a teenager, snow on the ground, wishing I could live somewhere that wasn’t so cold. I can remember asking my now ex-husband time and time again to move here (he never wanted to move). I finally got here. And I did it all by myself. And I’m ridiculously proud of that. And financially, materially, it has been the best move of my life. Yes it can get lonely sometimes, but, then, I wasn’t NOT lonely in Kentucky either. I didn’t spend the last decade of my Kentucky life in that small town. I spent it in the city… and I didn’t know anyone there either. I tell myself that it’s no different. And in many ways it isn’t. But in most ways, in the majority of ways, I’m still happy here. Happier in Florida than I can remember being in Kentucky – at least for the second half of my habitation there. I know that if I did move back, that I’d no sooner settle in than I’d find myself unhappy again – and this time, unhappy and shivering in the middle of winter.
And yet, the rolling hills of Kentucky still call to me as I sit here, on my couch, listening to the mid-summer Florida thunderstorm outside my window. Innately, I feel them drawing me in. Beckoning to me to come back – to visit the family I grew up in. To visit the graves of the family I never knew. To spend time walking around the high school track where I can still feel the awkwardness of those stupid first dates in the bleachers, still hear the kids outside the school waiting for the first tone to sound. In my mind’s eye, I can see the endless expanse of the corn fields down the highway and I can see the way that the sky, and the stars, seem to climb into the sky forever and ever – layers upon layers of eternity. Kentucky calls to me when I am in Florida.
And yet, Florida calls to me when I am in Kentucky. Surrounded by the clean, fresh air that I love, amused by my friends, comfortably pampered by my family, Florida beckons to me when I’m there. It wants me back. Tampa, the seductive city that she is, seems to throw out her arms and grab my hand, reminding me of the palm trees and the sound of the waves crashing into the beaches at night. She sends me visions of the downtown areas that I love so well. Palm Harbor, too, wants me to come back – the shops I love, the friends I’ve made there, the community that’s growing right before my eyes.
It is as if some days, I cannot win. Some days, I feel myself being pulled into two opposing directions; the one where my history, for better or worse, is so deeply entrenched. Where I will likely return, one day, to be buried with the rest of my family. And the other where my present lies… possibly also my future, though, being the restless wanderer that I am, I’m always open to suggestions. And then I realize… it’s not that each location, each life, is pulling me in two different directions. It’s not that at all. The truth of it is this: neither is pulling me anywhere. Because I have something that not everyone has… I have two places that I can call home. Whether I am here in Florida, whether I am there in Kentucky, I am home no matter where I go.
And, knowing that, I feel truly rich, indeed.