I've lived in Austin almost seven years -- longer than I have ever lived anywhere else in my entire life.
I've lived in California and Texas three times times each, New York twice, Connecticut, Virginia and Oregon once each, and until now, never stayed in one place more than two years.
The short version of the story: When I was ten, my father left and my mother went crazy, taking my three younger sisters and me on a ten-year, five-state, manic quest to run away from unhappiness and toward "home."
We never found home. What we did, instead, was move. A lot.
We had rules: We never got rid of our animals. So we always had one dog, maybe two along for the ride, and some cats, and occasional smaller creatures.
My mother wanted us to be "normal." This meant no trailer parks, apartments, condos or anything "less" than a full-fledged house with a real yard.
We took everything with us, every time, or made a bizarre attempt at it. Whatever we could fit in the back of the U-Haul came along.
So, we left Los Angeles when I was ten, and went to a house in upstate New York. My mother decided that was too cold and miserable, and she needed cash, so she burned down the house for the insurance check, and we were off to Texas, where it was warmer.
One year in Houston and three houses later, she decided Houston wasn't quite right for us, either. Clothes in black plastic garbage bags. Empty the junk drawer into a box, seal it up, put it on the back of a U-Haul.
Off to Los Angeles again. House after house after house. Big houses on a hill. Smaller houses on a different hill. Flat houses with a pool. Garbage bags, boxes and U-Hauls.
When she won big on a game show, it was a really big house with a pool. When that money was gone, so was Los Angeles.
Off to Oregon. Two houses. More moves. More boxes, more clothes in black plastic garbage bags. More stuff to be shipped/U-Hauled/packed/unpacked.
Six months later, back to Los Angeles. A different house, for nine months this time.
Back to the East Coast. Connecticut. Two houses in a year. Still not quite right.
Maybe upstate New York again, this time without the house fire?
This is where I bowed out of the dance, and went to college on my own, and moved, later, on my own to Texas.
I moved to a dorm room in the University of Houston, and I lived in one dorm room for two years.
A record for me.
I know how to move. I know how to sort things into boxes, to make runs to Goodwill, to put clothes into bags, to sort things into your car that you hope you won't lose, to keep running lists in your head of everything you own.
I know how to start over. How to make new friends. How to break into tight-knit social groups. How to make snap decisions about sentimental stuff and move on.
What I don't know is how to stay put. I like Austin. I'm happy here, and have good friends, a great house, and my kids love it.
And yet, it doesn't feel like "home."
I don't know where "home" is. I still don't know what to say when people ask me where I'm from.
I can imagine the perfect house, though. An amalgam of all the best parts of the houses I loved that we lived in. A big front porch, no mosquitos, a kitchen with a window over the sink. Plenty of bookshelves. A great garden. A big fireplace. A brook, perhaps, or a stream. Maybe a basement.
But I know I'm fooling myself even as I write this. I'll never find "home."
Because the big difference between my mother and me is that I know I don't need to keep searching for it.
I have my home, right here, with Mark and my kids. My family is all I need, and the rest is just noise. It's stuff that can be put in boxes, squished into black garbage bags. It's stuff that can be lost in fires, turned over in a U-Haul truck, ruined in a flood. It's all temporary and ephermal.
I won't say that I'm not a little nauseated and twitchy by the sight of garbage bags, boxes and Sharpies I have in my living room. Moving again is not easy for me.
But perhaps the best thing I learned from all of the moving, from all of the searching for home, is that perhaps Dorothy was right. You have what you need to go home all along. Your red slippers are always on your feet.
If only my mother could have learned that lesson earlier.
Off to go pack...