One thing I’ve learned from being a military kid is that you experience a lot of change. It seems like a given since you’re expected to move every few years and set up a completely new life wherever you live, but I’m a person who hasn’t moved as much as many other military kids. I never got to experience what it was like to move every other year and live all over the world. My six times felt like nothing compared with everyone else’s nine, twelve, or even fifteen times. Everyone told me I was lucky because I got to move back to the same place that I lived before, but what they didn’t tell me was that it would be one of the most difficult adjustments of my entire life thus far, especially because of all of the unexpected change it evoked.
When I was in first grade, I moved to Virginia. During my time there, I met many great people and made a ton of friends. From first through fourth grade, I had a designated posse that I devoted all of my time to. Lunches, recess, work time, after school- every free moment I had was dedicated to them. Then, the summer after fourth grade, my family packed up everything we owned and moved to Nebraska. I knew the move was coming, but I’d grown so attached to my Virginia friends that it hurt a lot more than I thought it would.
Once there, the Midwest was very different from any other place I’d ever lived before. There were tons of empty fields, dirt roads, and everything was spread far apart. Winters were freezing and summers were sweltering. I wasn’t used to life outside the city, but I still managed to enjoy my time there. I made new friends, excelled in school, and improved in sports. However, right when I started to feel at home in Nebraska, we were uprooted again. This time, though, my family was going to move back to the exact same place in Virginia where we’d lived before- a new experience for all of us.
It was the summer before seventh grade when we came back to Virginia, and I was fortunate enough to have kept in touch with friends from years past- but things were different now. The people I befriended all those years ago had gotten to stay here and grow up, while I had done so someplace else. My Virginia friends had inside jokes that I’d missed out on, and fitting back into my old friend group was not as clean as I assumed it would be. There were times when the other kids would talk about classmates and teachers I never met, or they would chat about events that I wasn't a part of. It was like they wanted me to feel like I missed out- but these people were supposed to be my friends, right?
Over the course of the next few years, it took me a while to get back into the swing of things. I finally understood and even made some of my own inside jokes with my friends. We had classes and lunches in common where we would talk about our teachers and peers. But even with all of the new adjustments, something still felt off about it all. When we’d talk, it felt like we were teasing others and belittling those around us instead of talking about “kid stuff” like I wanted to - things like TV shows and games to play.
I didn’t like where this path took my friends while I was gone, and I felt like I was still out of place, except maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. I could tell what we were doing was wrong and was hurting other people, so instead of just sucking it up and trying to fit back into a place where I didn’t belong, I separated myself from them. It was one of the most challenging decisions I’ve ever had to make, but it finally allowed me to be the one thing I hadn’t been since I had moved back to Virginia: myself.
The aftermath of breaking things off with these people was ugly. It involved smacking binders out of my hands, pushing in the halls, yelling outside of my house, and more. But to spare the gory details, the most important part about this experience was realizing that my path had changed. Maybe if I had stayed in Virginia with these kids for the rest of elementary school, I would have ended up just like them. Maybe if I hadn’t moved back, I would have stayed friends with them from afar. But even with all of these ‘what-ifs’, there was one thing I knew for sure: even though it wasn’t simple, the road I was now on was my own, not controlled by anyone else.