Life on the Move: Where is Home for Me?

I’ve lived in 2 countries, 12 states, and 40 different residences in 52 years

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Up until a few years ago, when people asked me where I was from, I didn’t know how to answer. The first six years I lived in the Philippines, I told everyone I was from Tucson, but that never felt right because, frankly, Arizona was a side-trip for me.

I lived 51 years a drifter before I finally realized that the Philippines is my home. It is the place I belong. I have a house here, family, and it feels more like home than anyplace else I’ve ever hung my hat.

Yes, I also have family in America who I love and cherish, and it might seem that I forgot all about them, but I didn’t. It is possible to feel like you belong somewhere else that is not next door to all your family.

I’ve been moving around my whole life, looking for something — a feeling — that I finally realized I had found on my little piece of property in South Asia with people who were strangers a few years ago.

I finally found a home.

I was born in Minnesota, and we jumped from place to place all over the state. I can remember three different houses before I started Kindergarten. But we moved again, and school started for me when we lived in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Besides going to school, the only other memory I have from South Dakota was a massive flood that wiped out the town in 1972, called the Black Hills Flood. We stood on a hill overlooking the city and watched people’s lives float away in the surge.

From there, we spent a little time in Terrytown, Nebraska, where I finished kinder. No doubt, we moved there because my dad had a job in a bakery.

For most of my life, we moved for two reasons: my dad had to go to a hospital, or he had a job. We weren’t in the military or the witness protection program, but circumstance seemed always to dictate that we move somewhere else.

My dad was a well-known master baker, and he was often offered jobs all over the country. I know, like me, my dad was a dreamer, and always believed that the grass would be greener in a new place with better money, but it never was. We could never escape my dad’s MS, and it proved to be the main reason our family lost so many excellent opportunities.

My dad never gave up trying to find a better place for his family, and he worked himself almost to death many times so we could have food, shelter, and clothing.

My dad was the reason most of the time for us moving, but I don‘t fault him for it, because I know as a parent you do whatever you can to get by, and my dad always had our best interests in mind.

My dad is my hero.

We then moved to Denver, Colorado, which turned out to have some great opportunities for us. My dad had several really great jobs, and we even opened our own bakery. It ultimately went under, but it was some of the best times we had as a family, working together and making things happen for us.

But, my dad’s health was not good, and because of some treatments he experienced for his MS when he was in the hospital, he had gained a massive amount of weight. The nerves in his legs and back were bad enough already, but if you throw another 350 pounds on those same legs, you have a recipe for disaster.

We spent quite a few good years in Denver, but like every other time, we had to move on and find a place where we could survive that didn’t involve my dad killing himself every day.

The next stop was the deep south — Bunkie, Louisiana — a picturesque little racist town with railroad tracks down the middle, where black people lived on one side, and white on the other.

I was in middle school by this time, and it was in a black community. All the white kids said I was crazy for walking to and from school through that neighborhood, but I rarely had trouble, except once, but there was a gentleman named Mr. Russell who saved me from a group of bullies and gave me cold iced tea and savory Boudin while I waited for those kids to move on.

I never understood back then why those kids would want to beat me up, but now I know that my whiteness made me evil to them and a target. I knew very little about racism, and no one ever tried to educate me. You can imagine the school books at that time and place only told the story from the white point of view.

I don’t blame those kids. If I was in their situation, I might have done the same thing, but at least I got to meet Mr. Russell, and I always made it a point to walk by his house and say hello as he sat on his porch drinking chicory coffee and smoking Lucky Strikes.

My dad worked at various odd jobs the whole time, and between what he made, and the help from the brothers and sisters in our congregation, we made ends meet. But he was still very heavy, and his overall health was going downhill.

We decided to move back to Minnesota so my dad could get an experimental weight-loss surgery at the University of Minnesota, called a gastric bypass.

But that involved me changing schools again, and I found out that because the school system in Louisiana was so far behind everyone else, I would have to take the 9th-grade classes over again.

The situation was unbearable for me because I had the stress of trying to adapt to a new group of kids, and my mental health was beginning to get worse. I was depressed, and my anxiety was so painful, I would spend whole class periods in the bathroom with explosive diarrhea.

So I quit going to school one day. I stayed hidden at my house most of the time, but after school hours, when the attendance officers had gone home, I would sit at the library and read. I wasn’t just reading Stephen King and Bukowski — I sat in the reference room and read encyclopedias from cover to cover.

I learned about all the things that a Jehovah’s Witness teenager was not supposed to know. I studied evolution and learned about sex and my body. I read about other religions, Greek gods, and atheists. I read things that my religion would label me an “apostate” for, but my passion for learning far outweighed any fear I felt of shunning by the Witnesses and my family.

I thought I should have a job, so my uncle got me a place at the grocery store where he was the produce manager. I put away trucks and deliveries and stocked shelves. I even worked the register at times.

After my dad had his hellish 17-hour surgery, where they cut him open from groin to the sternum and rerouted all his guts, he recovered quickly and starting dropping weight dramatically. Soon he was feeling better and found a new bakery that he could run, and we skipped off to Midland, Texas.

I hated Texas, but I stayed busy. When I wasn’t in my room reading or writing moody letters to my girlfriend and friends back in Louisiana, I was helping my dad at the bakery. But I started to worry that the cops would find me there, underage and out of school, and I didn’t want my dad to get in trouble, so I got a job at Burger King.

During this time, my anxiety was causing so much chaos with my digestive system that my parents took me to the doctor, and he told me it was anxiety and IBS (irritable Bowel Syndrome) causing all the trouble. He put me on Donnatal (which contains phenobarbital) and told me to calm down.

After a few weeks, though, my parents noticed I was walking around glassy-eyed and decided they couldn’t have one of their kids stoned in front of the brothers and sisters in our congregation, so they took me off the pills and left me to the mercy of my anxiety and a bad stomach.

My dad eventually quit the bakery he was running and started his own, creating fancy bread and expensive desserts for five-star hotels in Midland and Odessa, all from the garage of our house. I helped him when I could because I always loved working with my dad.

But I think he got tired of hearing me complain and we decided to move back to Louisiana, not because my dad had a job there, but because I was depressed and whined all the time that I missed my girlfriend and friends and I wanted to go back.

We spent a short time there, both in Bunkie and in Baton Rouge, but I got in trouble because of some drinking and smoking, and the witnesses slapped me with punishment. I wasn’t disfellowshiped, but I might as well have been because everyone except my parents started treating me as an outcast. I lost my girlfriend, and my friends never seemed to have the time for me anymore.

I went into a deep depression, and the combination of my mental health and my parent’s shame for having a son that reproved by the Witnesses pushed us to Tucson, Arizona.

My mental illness had taken over my life, and all I did was work at Burger King and lock myself in my room reading and writing in my spiral-bound notebooks.

I rarely said a word to my parents, and things were tense because I didn’t want to go to the Kingdom Hall with them anymore. I couldn’t stand those people looking at me with a mixture of pity and superiority.

That was the last time I moved with my parents because my dad finally agreed to the idea of me going to live with my brother in Gallup, New Mexico.

I went on to move many times in the next three decades, never satisfied to stay in one place. I was either always chasing a dream of more money or running away from myself and my mental illness.

In all those 52 years, I never stayed in one place long enough to call it home. I never felt comfortable living anywhere for very long until I moved to the Philippines.

Sometimes I envy people when they talk about their childhood hometowns, but my life wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t packed all my things and moved all those times over the years.

With each new place, there were exciting things to see, and I met a lot of great people. I have memories I will never forget in each one of the places I stayed, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

My parents worked hard to give us everything, and are innocent except for the sin we all have of thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else. They worked with the cards they had and made the decisions they thought were right.

I did as well with my family, although my worsening mental illness stained most of my decisions. I tried to be a good husband and father, but I was fighting too many battles, and I couldn’t keep up. I fear my kids and my first wife got only the worst of me, and I hope one day they can forgive me for dragging them all over the country, looking for something I could never find.

It wasn’t until I remarried and had two more kids that I started doing what it took for me to come to terms with my illness and my need to find greener grass.

I love my life now, and I am no longer looking for home because I found it with my family in the Philippines.

I just wish I could have gotten my shit together sooner and saved so many people the heartache of only seeing the worst parts of me.

I hope my kids and my parents have finally found a place to call home and people to share it with, and I hope they will keep me in their hearts as I finally live my life in a place I am proud to call home.

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Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

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