BY EMMA KEITH, JMC3023

I am 7 years old, sitting at my kitchen table in Houston with my family, crying.

My mother asks why I’m crying and I’m furious she doesn’t know. Not long after, my family packs up our home of two years and moves to another city.

Though this is the first of my family’s moves I remember, I’ve already moved three times by this point, thanks to my father’s job.

But I adjust. I’m a kid still, resilient and outgoing. My family finds a new home, new friends, a new way of life, and we grow comfortable in Dallas, a city we grow to call ours. I wasn’t born a Texan, but by the time I’m a teenager, I call myself one. My friends, my family, my life is there.

I am 17 years old, sitting in our home office in Dallas with my family, sobbing.

This time, my family is sobbing with me; this is the first time I will see my father cry. I am a senior in high school, full of hope for the future that now feels far away.      

I had a plan: To spend the next four years at the University of Oklahoma, only three hours from my home in Dallas. Three hours is a comfortable distance; not so close your parents and brother can visit every weekend, not so far you can’t go home when you miss them.

Suddenly, I have no plan: My family is moving to Atlanta the week after I graduate from high school. I will spend the summer there, and I will spend the next few years 900 miles from the three people I love the most.

I will spend the next few months descending into a deep darkness in a hot, oppressive, lonely city; my family is with me, but I know no one else in Atlanta. No, home is still Dallas, the city where I left so much and had staked my future.

I still don’t have friends my age in Atlanta today. I’m a college student who sometimes lives there for brief stints, too short to befriend anyone. Three summers in, Atlanta is horribly lonely still.

Then and now I think how different life might be if not for that time. I would not be writing this now; I would not have experienced the horrible lows of depression and anger and self-pity. I would not be me.

I realized something talking — and yes, crying — to my best friend on the phone the other day.

She and I, like all my most cherished relationships, apparently, are long distance — she called me from Manhattan, the island she now calls home.

She listened as I bemoaned spending Labor Day without my family while all my friends went home. She’s been with me through the past eight years — through plenty of high school drama, through that one terrible summer, through the uncertainties and newness of college. I talk to her about home and family regularly since she’s an honorary family member by now.

We talk about Atlanta a lot. My feelings have changed throughout the years and she’s seen it all. She heard my tears when I called her from Atlanta one night this summer, sobbing out of loneliness; she heard my joy when she called me as I walked through Midtown Atlanta by myself, content in the sunshine and the city. She knows I want to move to the city when I graduate and she knows despite the pain I feel there, I am drawn to the place.

“Do you tell people you’re from Atlanta?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” I said, admitting it makes me feel like a fraud to say I’m from a city where I didn’t even go to high school.

“You know, I think all this has made you grow up faster than everyone else around you,” she told me. You don’t have the luxuries a lot of your friends have related to home, she said.

She’s right — I can’t run to my family when something goes wrong; I can’t even call my mom sometimes because the hour time difference means she’ll be asleep. I see my parents twice a semester, my brother once every four months; we never spend our birthdays together.

My roommates’ parents come to stay every two weeks. I long to be able to do that.

I am 19 years old, sitting on my porch in Atlanta with my family, trying to hide angry tears.

I barely hear as my parents tell my brother and me we will lose the home I thought we had, the one I was finally comfortable with. My parents tell us as soon as they find out, sitting us down for what they always call a “family meeting.” At first I think they’re playing a cruel joke. They’re not.

My family will move back to Dallas next year, in summer 2018, the week after my brother graduates high school. Atlanta is a city full of music and festivals and art and beauty, a city I was excited to know more of. Dallas has nothing left for me.

My initial reaction to the news is terrible, then my mother reminds me of my reaction to the same news two years ago. She reminds me how terrible I was to everyone then, how she thought I’d grown, how she thought I would be able to react better this time. And I should be able to, so I pull myself together by the end of the weekend.

And I savor my summer with my family and in my city. I go camping with my brother along the Appalachian Trail and floating down the Chattahoochee River two miles from our house; I go to every single weekend art fair in the city with my parents. I go to the art museum and walk around Midtown and visit coffee shops by myself, soaking in the city.

This is my last summer here, and I am making the most of my love for a city that will soon slip away from me.

I am 20 years old, hoping home feels closer soon.

That place has always been hazy in my mind, so I’ve formed my own.

Some people have strong ties to the place they’re from, the state or the city or the tiny town that raised them like a family member.

Places change. Two decades and six cities in, I’ve come to understand my home is the people I love and who love me.

One part of my home moved to New York City a few weeks ago; three members of my home are, for now, in a suburb of Atlanta. Dozens of pieces of my home roam my campus every day, drawing me back to the things that matter.

Am I always content with home? No. When I’m in Norman, I want to be in Atlanta; when I’m in Atlanta, I want to be in Dallas. I am just a fickle human, changing daily.

Two years ago, when I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to get away from my family after spending an entire summer with no one but them.

Now, change and time have made me grow into my love for my family. The ones I love are home in that they anchor me, give me something constant to turn back to, give me love to run to.

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