This article was sent to us by Maddie G., a college freshman stationed at Washington DC. Do you have a story to share with your fellow military teens? Visit our writing page to find out how you can submit to Bloom!
"Where are you from?"
In my observation, people who haven’t experienced the military lifestyle don't hesitate like I do after being asked this simple question. They don’t suck in a deep breath that whistles through the gap between their teeth or cast their eyes upward in an attempt to find the beginning of their story. For all of my life, I’ve tried to craft a perfect response. However, each new location that is added to my roster of military moves just makes the answer grow longer and more convoluted.
How can I possibly explain that I am from the green, humid summers of Georgia, the waving prairie grass of Kansas, the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, the arid deserts of Utah, and still the blazing expanses of Texas? Afterward, I would need to further discuss the 14-hour flight across the churning Pacific Ocean, which led me to illegible signs, strange new flavors, and crowded cities of South Korea. And then would my listener like to hear about my college transition, too - the towering monuments, expansive swaths of historic houses, and autumn trees that surround me in Washington DC? What about my idyllic summers spent in Hopkinsville, Kentucky? Do they care that I consider it home, even though I’ve never actually lived there?
I don’t typically choose this answer when I meet people for the first time. Instead, I settle on a much simpler statement - something like, “My family is military, so I’m from all-over.” And while the receiver usually nods their head or slightly smiles, I know they can’t fully understand what I’m trying to say. With my limited human abilities, I’ll never be able to express the beauty of changing seasons and culture and all the sights I’ve seen.
Even if I could articulate this, how would I ever manage to convey everything that accompanied each of these forced “trips?” Long, white moving vans line neighborhood streets. Conveyor belts to apartment buildings. Promising to stay in touch but knowing “goodbye” will be permanent. Suitcases upon suitcases upon suitcases. The whir of tires against the nighttime highway, punctuated by occasional sniffles. Echoing voices in an empty house. A room covered in angular cardboard boxes. A schoolhouse labyrinth of winding hallways packed full of unfamiliar faces. Being stuck with the constant label of “new” that seems impossible to rip off.
Every year, during the Month of the Military Child, adults would shower me with praise, saying they were astounded by my “resilience.” As a kid, I sat in school-wide assemblies where auditoriums applauded my ability to bear major life changes without flinching. My childhood faded to maturity before my first growth spurt. For a long time, I found consolation in being strong. I kept a straight face while I clutched the fabric of my father’s weather-beaten uniform before his deployment. I stepped up and took responsibility for my family in his absence. When my non-military friends cried as I got ready to move away, I felt intense confusion at their sudden emotions.
It was simply a part of my life, one that could not be stopped or controlled. I moved forward constantly and never looked back.
Isolation weighed heavily upon my back, and I struggled to connect with others at my first, second, and third high schools. But I always knew that I could rely on myself. I found solace in the fact that I could work hard and eventually “settled in,” even if that meant settling for unprocessed emotions and a lack of real friendships. However, as the bags under my eyes grew darker and the lunch tables filled with empty seats, I began to reconsider the “lone wolf” mindset that had driven my success for so many years.
Everyone expected me to be strong and bounce back. Instead, I felt like a festering open wound that had been left to heal without any bandages.
It took a long time for me to finally allow myself to cry, regret, relish, relive, and fully feel the enormous weight of everything that had been a part of my life. Growth is not a linear process, and I often wrestle with the impacts of these circumstances on my youth. However, through it all, I am grateful. My experiences have made me realize that my emotions and connections to others are what make me strong, not the military kid myth of “resiliency.” We are not robots. Our strength is built on the ability to survive together and form relationships, not our capacity to maintain composure and “be tough” through hardship.
It’s okay to reach out for help. You don’t have to get through everything alone.
I may not be able to say where I’m from without lapsing into a 15-minute narrative about my life, but I can confidently say that I know who has been with me along the way. As I flew home this Thanksgiving to my family’s current duty location, I realized that the faces of my brothers and friends have become my home, regardless of where I am. The house I live in has no bearing on my heart. The people I love are with me, whether they are playing Fortnite by my side or falling asleep on Facetime across oceans and time zones.
Being a military kid has helped me discover that I am ready to face what comes next in my life. It might be painful, but I will embrace myself and others with pride. Feelings are not a weakness, but a sign of the true inner strength that will guide my path to greater discovery. As I continue to explore D.C. and finish out my teenage years, I will keep my past experiences close to the surface of my thoughts. It’s impossible to forget what I’ve been through, but I want to move forward and turn my hardship into something worthwhile.
I am more than resilience, more than where I was born or where I’ve been.