Prior to meeting C, whenever I said “home” I was referring to northeast Wisconsin. Even though I lived in other states for undergrad and grad school, I would always go “home” on summer, winter, and spring breaks. Every holiday had annual traditions performed by the whole family, and every season included must-do activities with the same friends you knew since elementary school. It was a safe zone with generational friendships–my friend’s parents are friends with my parents, my friend’s siblings are friends with my siblings etc. Northeast Wisconsin is where I grew up, the place where my parents and extended family (98 people total) still lived, and the state that molded me.
I knew I could always move home if I did not like the west coast. In my mind, it was better to experience other parts of the country then just settle. After two years of graduate school, my intentions were to move back “home” to Wisconsin. I missed the friendliness of the Midwest, seeing family on holidays, visiting friends in nearby Great Lake states, and being close to large rivers and lakes.
I sought adventure in the wild west and ended up on an adventure that would not let me return home–I chose to marry military. I quickly learned that home is wherever the Air Force stations you. There is a “dream list” with base preferences, and there are luring options across the globe in Europe, Asia, and the United States. However, wherever the Air Force gives you orders is where you must go whether it was a top preference or a city you would not even want to drive through on your way home.
The Midwest was no longer an option. Tucson, a city that lacked employment opportunities for me, was now my home. At first I was resentful. This was not where I was meant to be living. I was supposed to apply nationwide to jobs, full-time career positions as a curator, but instead, I found myself living paycheck to paycheck just to stay where C was stationed. I was angry and frustrated and wanted to move immediately. C told me we could do distance if that is what I wanted in order to get hired somewhere else. And that is when it hit me. At the end of each work day, it is family waiting for you at home, and when your career ends, it is family that is with you during retirement. A career is only for 40 years, but a family is your legacy, it is forever.
The only thing left to do was make Tucson my home and accept C and the Air Force as my family.
First: decorate your apartment and live off base, if you can. Removing yourself from all the rules and regulations from base helps leave work at work. And although you will be moving frequently, unpack and decorate your place. Fill it with furniture that could be easily transported into a different house’s room. Hang pictures on the walls. Make it your space.
Second: broaden your job searches to include all talents and interests. Do not just settle for a random job that does not apply your education background. Even if it means working a couple jobs you love, it will be better than resenting your significant other for having to work one full-time job you hate just because you’re stuck in a city you hate. I began working at a tennis center (former Horizon League tennis player) and part-time at two art museums (Tucson Museum of Art and Tucson Desert Art Museum). It was a hectic schedule, but I was still resume building. I also applied and received a certificate that allows me to teach art history at Pima Community College, if I needed extra money. Although the jobs may be part-time, it is always a possibility they will become full-time if you put in the work. If there are no other options then look into going back to school. One of the reasons I decided to go back to school (online program so it is military friendly) is to complement my art history background while broadening employment opportunities into collections management and library positions. Every city has art museums and every city has libraries.
Third: make a bucket-list of all the activities you can only do in that location. Take leave and travel around the area that you are stationed. Visit all the tourist destinations and see what there is to see there. Appreciate what the city has to offer rather than viewing what the city is taking away from you. Tucson gives me wide horizons with gold and pink sunsets over purple mountains. I got to hike Saguaro National Park and take selfies with cacti. I got to experience a desert summer, view millions of stars on top of Mt. Lemmon, eat the most delicious Mexican food, live in a stucco structure, and see lizards running around my feet. Even broader, Tucson had an Amtrak station that let me visit a friend in Los Angeles and travel up the west coast to Seattle. I was also in driving distance of Phoenix and Flagstaff and viewed the glorious Grand Canyon with C.
Four: plan trips to your hometown whenever you have the finances. Airplane tickets are expensive to fly from Tucson to Milwaukee; however, it is important to also visit home and family. It is a great way to refresh yourself and escape the chaos that comes with the military lifestyle.
Five: always look forward. There is a lot to look forward to being military. Just because you’re stationed in a city you dislike does not mean that will be your permanent home. Nothing in the military is permanent. Plan options for potential employment opportunities near each base. Make your own opportunities where you’re located and keep working towards your life goals from where you are stationed.
Keep making memories with your loved one rather than waiting for change. Never take the time you have together for granted. Think of it as a once in a lifetime adventure because home is wherever the Air Force stations you.