Honestly, it’s weird to me that I made it to the point that I could be writing this post. Back in my First Quarter Goals post, I mentioned that April of 2017 was the scariest month on the calendar because that’s when my husband, Troy, will no longer be active duty in the US Army. And it’s true; I’m still scared. But right now, it’s the calm before the storm. As I write this, we are both still in our apartment in Junction City, Kansas. Granted, some of our belongings are already in boxes, but at this current moment, we still have roots.
But those are about to be yanked right out.
When the moving truck comes, our material things will be loaded onto it and it will go to a storage unit in Florida where we will eventually be settling down. Before we transplant ourselves, we will be temporary tumbleweeds. We’re in the process of buying a van which we will be living in for several weeks as we travel the United States with our dogs.
I violently oscillate between overwhelming joy at the prospect of freedom and adventure with the man and the dogs I love and crippling fear of the unknown. I remember moving from Florida to Kansas back in the summer of 2014 so vividly that it’s hard to believe that the time to leave is actually here.
It hasn’t been easy living in Kansas. We’ve experienced tons of heart break here. When I first moved to the Midwest to be with Troy in 2014, it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I was a brand new college graduate with a five month old puppy moving into my first grown up apartment while Troy was still at a training exercise several states away. Those first few nights in that new place were rough. I was so homesick. I had no friends yet, no job yet, and no fiancé to ease some of that burden. I became really depressed when I first moved here and that sadness reappeared sporadically throughout our time living here.
While we were planning our wedding towards the end of 2014, Troy’s parents announced their separation. Our engagement was rough. I was lonely and frustrated and I was taking it out on him. I was doing all of the wedding planning myself and it was hard. I resented the process and, admittedly, the stress began to make me resent the man I love.
Months before our wedding in the summer of 2015, I moved back in with my parents in Florida to focus on wedding planning and figure out what I really wanted. I would stay up for hours Googling “why do I have cold feet?” “Do I actually love my fiancé if I’m scared to get married?” I read horror stories of failed marriages and sunk myself into a depression that didn’t fade until long after our wedding and honeymoon were over. I drove a wedge between me and Troy and the rest of the world too. I didn’t eat or sleep right for months. Our wedding turned out beautiful, but there is still a melancholy that seeps into the edges of the memories of that night.
Still, I don’t think I could find the words to explain how thankful I am that we made it to the altar. Waking up to this man every day isn’t just my favorite thing – it’s the only thing. Our marriage, to me, is a million times more beautiful than any wedding ceremony. That being said, it didn’t make moving back to Kansas after our wedding any easier.
After we were married, we already knew that Troy would soon be deploying for nine months to the Middle East. I got to spend barely four months with my new husband before we said goodbye before the sun came up on a chilly October morning at Fort Riley. That memory – one of the worst I have – is one that Kansas claims. I remember sitting in my car after I kissed Troy goodbye and feeling like I was completely helpless. Just like when I moved here for the first time, I was crushed beneath the weight of loneliness and futility. I was just beginning to open my heart to this person again after a seriously hellish rough patch during our engagement and he left to go to a hostile corner of the world. I sat with my eyes fixed on my steering wheel for fifteen minutes after he was gone and then I got home to our empty apartment and slept on the floor with Chewy just like I did when I first got there.
That week, I moved home to Florida for the remainder of the nine month deployment. Then, the thing I had been counting down for months was finally almost happening. It was summertime of 2016 and it was time to move back to Kansas – it was time for Troy to come home.
I was excited to come back to Kansas and welcome my husband home, but the Universe had other ideas. Right before Troy came back, our apartment was robbed. We lost nearly everything. Every ounce of fight I had left in me was taken just like the rest of our belongings. I felt like I had failed. I felt like Troy wouldn’t have a home to come home to. The thought of disappointing him after all he had been through shattered me into a million pieces. I blamed Kansas. I called our town and the police who did nothing to help me unspeakable things. I screamed at God. I still get scared within the walls of our apartment. The feeling of violation has faded, but it hasn’t disappeared.
Despite all of the hardship and bad memories we’ve endured in our time here, Kansas ironically holds one of my best memories – when Troy came home. Even though I was dealing with a lot after all of our belongings being stolen and insurance paying us for exactly none of it due to a technicality, seeing that man’s face instantly shook some sense into me. In that moment, I realized it was just stuff. Troy still had a home to come home to because Chewy and I were there. I’m his home and he’s mine. Four walls and a bunch of shit can’t compete with that. Perhaps that’s why we’re so eager and willing now to rip up our roots and hit the road for weeks on end pretty soon.
For all of the shit that’s happened during our time in Kansas, I did learn this lesson here: when you boil down a life to only what is absolutely necessary – when you’re left with just the very essence of what life is – that’s when you find answers to questions you wrestled with for years. When everything we had was gone and all I had was my husband and my dog, I learned that I already had everything. The first night lying next to him in nine months was weird because it wasn’t weird. I expected to be drunk on excitement and up all night, but that was the best sleep I had gotten in over a year. Kansas is the place I learned to hold onto that peace and chase it when it starts to fade.
I started hiking more in Kansas. I started getting serious about blogging in Kansas. I missed the Florida palm trees, but I became sort of like a palm tree living here: I didn’t have a lot of roots, but the ones I did have were deep and strong. I was flexible when shit got hard and, for that reason, I didn’t completely break. I learned to not feel like a victim just because I was living here. I explored the Flint Hills. I left a piece of my heart in the golden grass that rippled against a crimson prairie sunset. I learned that marriage isn’t anything like what I thought it would be during my engagement and, when Troy came home, we got a second chance to be newlyweds. We seized that opportunity with amazing and terrifying enthusiasm.
We fell deeper in love in Kansas.
We grew up in Kansas.
For these reasons, saying goodbye will be painful. But it’s the kind of painful like taking off a Band-Aid – it only comes off when you’re well into the healing process.
Of course, we’ll face our share of hard stuff in Florida and I’m sure we’ll make a few bad memories in our new home there. But the difference is, thanks to the lessons we’ve learned in Kansas, we’ll know how to solve those problems as a team. Because of what we’ve learned here, we can be rooted in each other instead of in a place. Life gets a lot easier when that becomes your reality.
Because Troy won’t be active duty anymore, we have all the time in the world to build our life together. No more crying in cars and counting down the lonely months. No more missed anniversaries. No more explaining why only half of your heart is at Thanksgiving dinner.
If you’re starting a new chapter of your life, know that you’re not alone. I’ve started many new chapters in a really short amount of time because that’s just Army life. But Kansas was kind of like the paper that all of those chapters were written on – the binding in the spine of this portion of our lives.
It’s both scary and amazing to say goodbye when you’re saying goodbye to the home of literally your best AND worst memories, but the thing I’ve found after living here for this chapter of my life is what lies ahead is better than what we’re leaving behind.
There are adventures to be had in the world out there and we’re going to collect all of the good memories we can possibly hold while we’re on the road.
Kansas’s state motto is per aspera ad astra. This Latin phrase translates to “out of adversity, to the stars.” It seems so fitting of our time here and of our farewell. My heart broke in Kansas several times, but this place will be the launch pad to our best days.
So thank you, Kansas. Thank you, Junction City. Thank you, shitty boss I worked for here who fired me and lit a fire in me to be my own boss. Thank you to the amazing people I got to know while working at the Flint Hills Job Corps Center. Thank you, Fort Riley and Army family – your love and support over the years is what got us through the tough stuff out here. Thank you, families and friends in Florida who loved us long distance while we lived here. Thank you, people who stole all of our stuff and taught me a lesson about letting go of material things. Thank you, Arrow for the best cup of coffee in the whole damn state of Kansas. Thank you, every trail I’ve hiked here. Thank you, every dirt road I’ve joy ridden here.
Goodbye, Army and goodbye, Kansas.
Per aspera ad astra.