In less than a year I will become the sole member of my family to still live in my hometown.
It’s something I never could’ve predicted.
At 13 years old, I came home from school to find my father standing by the front door with a suitcase.
The year that followed the stunning revelation that my parents were getting divorced is a collection of fuzzy memories and cloudy snapshots.
My oldest brother was away in college. My other brother chose to live with my dad in our grandparent’s house.
I stayed with my mother in the house I grew up in, discovering the glorious distraction of the world wide web. Late nights with the green glow of the computer screen on my cheeks making the empty rooms disappear.
We started renting a tiny house, the color of mud, with terrazzo floors, jalousie windows and a sketchy neighbor who wore an eye-patch and mysteriously knew our names.
It wasn’t long before our dog Patches died of cancer and the only house I remember from my childhood was sold.
My mother had a job as a librarian at a school for “troubled kids.” She quickly parlayed that into a position as a “media specialist” for the world-renowned Poynter Institute. Months of watching presentations focused on the ethical dilemmas of Journalism and she landed her first gig in T.V. news as a writer at the small station in Sarasota.
This meant she worked overnight and slept during the day and was painfully absent during some of my most formative years. But, her determination earned her a position as a Producer at a Tampa station within a year. A year later, she was the Executive Producer at another station in town. By the time I left for college, she was running a 24-hour news station in Austin, Texas.
My dad was cheating the system and living in a senior living apartment complex.
I was without a “home” to call “home.”
I have always envied those college kids who were able to return home for a long weekend to their moms doing their laundry, home cooked meals and the stuffed animals from their childhood still cozying up together in their bedroom closets. I imagine them sighing with relief, enveloped by a quilt embedded with some comforting and familiar smell.
Fast forward to present day. My mother lives in South Carolina. My brother lives in Massachusetts. The other one is in Orlando. My father is about to retire and move permanently to North Carolina.
I am the last of the Fields to reside in Tampa Bay, although my last name is no longer the same.
Granted, I returned here after four years in Gainesville and four more in Miami.
But, I am HOME.
I cannot gaze dreamily at the white eyelet canopy above my childhood bed. So, instead I stare squinting at the Florida sun.
I can’t smell my dad’s barbecue chicken on the grill, the smoke filling the sky with the smells of summer.
But, I can dig my toes in the same sand I did when I wasn’t even old enough to swim.
Watching a palm tree, strained and bent by the gusting wind of a summer storm can bring me to tears.
My cheeks hurt from smiling hard while watching the “heat lightning” from my son’s bedroom window.
My Facebook friends probably find it annoying how frequently I talk about my love for this state. I post pictures of the sunset more than could be considered normal.
Florida is my home, my family, my childhood, my stability and my solace.
While I can’t be sure that I will be able to provide my children with their “childhood home” to return to some day, I am going to dry my darndest. But, they will always be coming home to my home.
My roots here run deep and my loyalty is fierce.