• Genevieve Oakley

*That* Question



It's your first day at probably your fifth new school. You stare into a sea of faces without names, gaze at the foreign walls covered in art and cutouts. Your backpack is heavy on your shoulders as you push them back, lift your chin, and walk into the classroom.


The teacher is bright and bubbly and immediately shows you to your desk. You're seated next to a red haired girl sprinkled in freckles, and a bleach blonde boy who obviously spent his summer at the beach.

The teacher begins her introductions, then starts a wave of get to know you questions around the room. When that tidal wave reaches you, you suck in a breath and push out from your seat.


What's your name? Genevieve.


What are your hobbies? Reading and soccer.


Where are you from?


Whoop, there it is. The ball has been dropped, the climax reached, the bane of my existence finally asked. What do I say?


Do I answer with Colorado, my birth state in where I only lived for two weeks before PSCing to Kentucky? Do I claim those Rocky Mountains and hiking trails as my own? Technically, I am from there...

Or do I say my favorite state I lived in? Kansas with my old soccer team and amazing school. I could answer with where I lived the longest- the hot summer heat and stove-like concrete of Texas being my only memories of the three years I spent there, though.


But, no. None of those seem right.


I could answer where my parents are from; I could say Ohio and relive summers in the suburbs with my cousins, selling lemonade on street corners and cannonballing into the pool. Or I could answer California, claiming the Christmas mornings championed with brunch and walks on the beach in San Francisco to be where I'm from.


If I really wanted to stretch it, I could say New York, the last state I lived with my parents in before heading off to college. I could claim New York and acknowledge the ten moves before - all those different places and landscapes and people and environments- as puzzle pieces that culminate to create me. But New York, that's where I'm from.


But, no. That's not right either. I've moved too many times, have had to redecorate too many rooms or fit into too many soccer teams. I can't say I'm from one place, as most Americans do. I can't claim a hometown and grow nostalgic for a specific diner or street corner. I can't return from college to fall asleep in the same bed I used to have middle school sleepovers in. I can't even fill out my voting registration without having to do a hard think about what state I'm from. I don't have just one place to claim. I'm a kaleidoscope of so much of America, it'd be a misrepresentation to claim just one.


Sighing, I run a hand through my hair and prepare the story I've already told countless times.


"My dad's in the military, so I guess I'm from everywhere?" A nervous chuckle. "I've lived in Colorado twice, but Texas the longest, but I was most recently in New York. But I spend all my holidays in either California or Ohio - I know, quite a different climate - but I've also lived in Italy and Virginia, among a few others." The familiar gaze of the class gaping was one thing not foreign in this classroom. I hadn't even mentioned Kentucky. "So I guess I'm from everywhere? I guess I'm just from America."


Again, a nervous chuckle. But the teacher launches into the similar script of "wow, that's so cool," or "you'll have to tell us about Italy." I just lean farther into my seat and let my roaring blood settle.


But that's the question that gets us, right? Where are you from? If I'm being completely honest, I'd laugh and say "I don't have a clue." I've seen so much and changed so much, but also taken a piece of every state I've lived in with me. I'm not from anywhere; I'm a culmination of everywhere I've lived. I'm a child forged on interstates and moving boxes, a child who mastered Texas BBQ before I could drive, but can also navigate NYC better than most adults. I speak Italian while playing cards, confusing my cousins and cheating with my brother. I have the Kansas flag on my Hydroflask, while the Ohio flag on a keychain.


Questions riddle the military teen's life as we live off of uncertainty. Where are we moving next? How long are we staying here? When can Grandma and Grandpa come to visit? But I think the one that truly makes my skin crawl and head spin is the infamous, menacing, egregious, ignominious, abominable, and downright exhausting question: where are you from?