My sister-in-law just got a new job in New York City and has been going through all the emotions that come with relocating.  When you’re in college it seems that even if you leave home it isn’t a permanent arrangement.  Your home, your room, all the things that make you feel comfortable and secure stay pretty much the same.  When you leave school for a weekend or a vacation you’re going Home.  When you move for a job or a spouse it’s a big step.  For the first time you are leaving Home to make a new place for yourself.  It’s scary.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s a change you can’t take back.

I left home just a week after the attacks on September 11, 2001 on one of the first days of normal operation at SFO.  I had no idea at the time what to expect.  I had been to Philadelphia twice.  I was scared, excited, and nervous, but I was ready for the new start I thought I was getting.  I was moving 3,000 miles away from home.

At that time they took everything you had packed out of your suitcase, plugged in all the electronics, and opened all your toiletries.  Since I had packed most of my worldly belongings in two slightly overweight suitcases, this took more time that anyone leaves themselves at the airport these days.  I had also puzzle packed very carefully, and anything returned to the wrong spot in the suitcase would inevitably upset the entire system.  I was also not allowed to touch anything, which meant I couldn’t help the poor agent staring at my bag like a disassembled jet engine trying to figure out how it went back together.  She eventually got it all repacked as best she could and sent me on my way.

I grew more and more anxious as we approached security.  This was it.  They couldn’t go to the gate with me.  I was on my own.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to jump up and down until the feelings inside me abated, but I did none of these things.  I hugged my family and prepared to leave them behind, but just before I did my father squeezed me tight and said, “remember, you can always come back”.  I have seen tears in my father’s eyes twice in my life, and that moment was one of them.

My gate was full of eerie silence where I was used to families getting their last moments in with departing loved ones.  For the first time since deciding to move so far for college I second guessed myself.  What was I doing?  In all honesty I knew exactly what I was doing.  I was doing what I’ve done my entire life.  I was taking a big jump just to see how it felt.  Inside I was terrified and exhilarated and hoping to all that’s sacred I didn’t fall.  For a few moments though, as my jump reached that point where everything pauses for a second and becomes clear, I thought about everything I was leaving behind and everything I was headed towards in Philadelphia.  I knew I was making the right decision for me, but it didn’t make it any less terrifying.

Landing in Philadelphia brought me new hurdles.  The friend I had arranged to pick me up never showed, and I didn’t have any idea where to tell the taxi to take me.  He followed the line of cars and parents helping their sons and daughters get settled into their dorms, and eventually we found where I was supposed to go to register.  I was on my own from there, quite literally, with two fifty-something pound bags, a guitar, and a full framed backpack.  I must have looked ridiculous.  After much dragging, kicking, and pulling I found my room, which was of course on the top floor of a building with no elevators, and set out to explore.

At some point I found the one friend I had made at orientation, and immediately everything seemed better.  I was once again confident that I had made the right choice.  While my college experience may not have reached its full potential or been everything I had hoped it would be I have never regretted having it.  The friends I met and the bonds I forged that still hold strong today are worth far more than any of the negative memories I have of the six months I was in college.  Would I rather have finished or had the opportunity to make better decisions?  Of course, but this is my path.  There’s no turning back now.

This very topic came up discussing our wedding guest list with Hubby’s parents.  His stepfather doesn’t understand why we would invite so many more friends than extended family.  How do you explain to someone who has never left home that these people are family.  These are the people who have supported me and cared for me.  They’ve laughed and celebrated with me.  They’ve comforted me and given me advice.  This is what makes this Home no matter where I go in life.  I will always have a family and a home in California.  My family will always love me, and I know I always have a place with them.  That’s where my roots start, but they bloom in Pennsylvania.  I will always be a California girl, but this is my home, too.

Thomas Wolfe was right.  You can’t go home again.  The secret is that you never really leave it in the first place.

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