I wasn’t born in Florida, but without question, it is my home. I moved there when I was about a year old because my father was in the Coast Guard and he was re-stationed. He later retired but my family stayed in the area because, well, it was home.
Growing up, there were so many things about Florida that I didn’t like. The heat. The humidity. The bugs. The tourists. The way it rained every afternoon in the summer, etc.
So when I graduated college and began my professional career, I was ready to move away. Tampa, Florida was the only place I’d ever known, and I was ready for a new experience.
Upon graduation, I had the opportunity to move to Philadelphia - a city that I loved! I was excited about moving to a BIG city - especially one with so much history - and moving out on my own. But two weeks before I was set to move, I got a full-time job opportunity … in Florida … and I had to do what was right for me at the time.
I’ve spoken many times about my “first job” so we all know how the story goes next… That job just doesn’t work out. So there I was, a year after graduation, still living in my home state, but happy.
And then... Fast forward through a few twists and turns in my life, and I’m sitting in my office at my alma mater two years after graduation when I get a call about a job in Michigan. Between formally applying, interviewing, accepting the position, and packing up my life, the next two weeks were a blur. In that two week span, I went from living in sunny Florida to being a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan. How strange.
Moving from the only place I’d ever known to Michigan was the scariest decision I’ve ever made, but it’s been worth it. I’ve experienced my first fall, winter, and spring seasons, my first football game in the Big House, and more. While living in Michigan, my husband and I have gotten married, purchased our first home, and even visited another country… Canada!
But, of course, there have been hard times, too. When I left Florida, I was too headstrong to realize how much I would miss my hometown, but I’ve certainly learned my lesson. Other than my husband, who I lived without for the first six months after starting at Michigan, I have been lonely. I left my best friends in Florida and haven’t been able to fill that hole in my life. I’ve missed birthdays, weddings, and Thanksgiving. And when I drove through snow for the first time and ended up on a median during morning rush hour, I didn’t know who to call, because I knew my dad couldn’t come help.
Due to budget and time demands, traveling home hasn’t been easy; a flight from Detroit to Tampa certainly isn’t cheap, and the drive takes about 20 hours. Additionally, my sport assignments begin in August and end in June, and that leaves little time for vacation. Planning trips home has required a lot of foresight and preparation, which is why my husband and I booked flights home for Christmas back in August when they were still relatively cheap.
In the same way, my family and friends have not been able to share in my new life, which I know is painful for them. They haven’t seen my new house and they were unable to comfort me during my recent miscarriage. When something breaks, my dad isn’t here to help fix it. When I’m sad, my mother isn’t here to hug me. Those are the things they do best, and they can’t help that they’re not here. It’s been tough for all of us.
And of course, this past weekend, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded made its way toward my home state. Though my friends and family members remained in their homes and are safe and sound, the same can’t be said for those in lower parts of the state and in the Florida Keys. The destruction could have been much worse, and I'm thankful that everyone I know is alive and well.
Even though I've experienced hardship while living away from home, being so far away while my family and friends faced Hurricane Irma was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Not knowing if they were safe or if the house I’d grown up in would make it made for an extremely long and stressful weekend for me, even though I was thousands of miles away covering our volleyball team in Colorado.
I've grown up a lot since I left Florida, but I think I grew up a lot this weekend, too. I really haven't felt like Michigan is “home” because I've always considered Florida to be my home. And home is where the heart is, right?
This past weekend, I realized that leaving “home” to follow my dreams was the right decision. My friends and family miss me, sure, but their lives have gone on without me there -- just as my life has gone on without them. In times of joy and sadness, they're only a phone call or a quick flight away, and that will work just fine.
Moving away from home has given me a greater appreciation for my friends, my family, and for Florida itself. While I love having seasons, I miss the beach and the sun and the afternoon showers that come like clockwork in the summertime. I sometimes even miss the bugs. I swear they are smaller back in Florida!
It might sound silly, but moving away from home has made me love my home even more. I'm not sure where life will take me, but I know that no matter where I am or what I do, I'll always have a home in Tampa, Florida.