When I drove out that morning, I was going on vacation to visit a friend in Texas. I was in my mid-twenties and had just extricated myself from a painfully unhappy relationship. I wanted to get far away to recalibrate and regain my perspective. Out of state: perfect.
By the time I got back from my road trip a couple of weeks later, something foundational had shifted in my heart and I had embraced the idea that happiness lay elsewhere.
Maybe it was the independence I felt, checking into a hotel by myself for the first time in my life in Tallahassee. Or the thrill of driving successfully through a Louisiana bayou on a bridge only inches above the miasma. Perhaps it was the rebellious feeling I got singing Billy Joel’s “My Life” at the top of my lungs as I crossed the Texas state line.
I just had this sense that I needed to put Florida on pause and see what else was out there.
After that trip, I started subscribing to newspapers in several large cities outside of Florida and regularly scouring the classifieds for a job (that was the go-to way to find a job in those days). New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington, DC – wherever I could find a job first, that’s where I’d go. New Orleans won that “lottery”, so I rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded up my piano and a few belongings, and left, breaking my parents’ hearts.
As for all the rest I was abandoning, I chose not to think about that.
I had every intention of coming back once I got this – whatever it was – out of my system. Florida was home, after all. I was born and raised there; my Dad’s “people” in North Florida went back long generations.
Of course, I wasn’t as independent as I thought and before long, I was swept up in the swift current of another relationship, one that insured I would not return to Florida any time soon.
If that relationship closed the door, my career choice a few years later locked it.
Working for the Federal government meant I would be at the mercy of Uncle Sam for any future moves and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get transferred to Florida. Too many other people in my position with more seniority wanted to go there. Washington, DC and Chicago were to be the cities that formed and informed who I would become during the next chapter of my life.
When my daughter was born (in Chicago), the ties holding me in place got stronger. Now there was another person whose future was entwined with mine and for whom I would have sacrificed my very life. Making any decision based on my own whim was out of the question.
Independent? I think not.
Less than two years later when I found myself the single parent of a toddler, I still didn’t have the seniority in my job to get me back to Florida near my family. My mother – God bless her – wanted so much to move up to Illinois to help me. And my Dad – I know this – would have shifted the earth on its axis to make it happen, but it wasn’t to be.
Instead, the relationships I formed with people around me became my life’s breath, as I leaned into my friends, my church, and my neighbors for the help I needed to raise my daughter. My relationship with Christ sustained me on the deepest level and my heart became knit with those who shared my life. We invested in each other and together built friendships of inestimable value.
I retired from that government job a few years ago after 21 years and yes, my daughter grew up. (And grew up well.) And you know what? For a sliver of time after I retired, I could have gone back to Florida.
But . . . I blinked.
Old ties were strong and new ones were already forming. I couldn’t go. Now? It’s no longer possible, at least not permanently.
So I attend high school reunions when I can, do my “social media sweep” regularly to stay in contact with old friends, and for a couple of months each year, I’ve become something I never thought I’d be: a snowbird. It works.
But I never meant to leave Florida.
Would you care to share a “temporary” choice you made when you were young that turned out to be permanent? Was it a good or a not-so-good thing? Please feel free to leave a comment.
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