Being in a military family all my life, I never appreciated the opportunities I had over others to travel to places many people only dream to go. I was envious of other children who stayed in the same place their whole life, being able to grow strong, long-lasting relationships with their friends and family while all my friendships were temporary; and when someone asked me where I was from, I never knew how to answer. Yes, I lived in Europe. I lived on an island. I attended three different high schools. But what I longed for the most were stable living conditions — to be able to say, “I was born and raised in Texas,” and not, “I was born in Texas and raised anywhere but.” However, I never realized until I was a decent age and lived in a good amount of places that your home doesn’t have to be where you lived the longest. Your home is where your heart is.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
From ages 4 to 9, I lived in Honolulu, Hawaii. To me, it was just a place; but I attended Kindergarten there. The foundation of the knowledge I have today was created there. I learned to ride a bike there. I learned to swim there. I developed long-lasting relationships there. However, I moved in 2003 to Europe, taking not a trace of Hawaii with me. From then on, I lived my ordinary, military life — making friends, moving, making new friends, moving again. A part of me was missing, but I always thought it was because I never had a consistent living situation. A part of me longed for a home, somewhere to belong, and somewhere that belonged to me. As I grew older, I started to miss my childhood. I started to appreciate the places I’ve been – and when I graduated high school in May 2012, I was given a chance to show my appreciation once and for all: my family had roundtrip tickets to Hawaii. After nearly ten years, I would be traveling to the place where the foundation of the person I am today was built. We were only going to attend a wedding of one of our close friends, but my parents considered the trip to be graduation gifts for me and my step sister, who graduated college at that time as well. The plan was to stay for a week, and do as much as we possibly could. Out of the five of us – my mom, my brother, my step sister and my step father and me– my mom and I were the only ones who had been to Hawaii before, aside from my brother, who was born there but left with us at the age of 4 months. When we landed at the airport in Honolulu on May 18th, I was overwhelmed with emotions I’d never felt before. I had only lived in Hawaii for five years, but I felt like I was being reunited with a long lost relative. The air outside smelled exactly the same as I remembered – sun-dried palm leaves with a hint of car exhaust, salt water and plumerias. Nothing had changed since the nine years I had been gone. On the way to the hotel, we passed a wall with the American Flag and an eagle painted on it. It was the same wall I used to pass everyday on my way to and from school. We passed a parking garage next to the beach where I rode my bike, got lost and waited until someone found me. We passed rows of plumeria trees that reminded me of sitting by one during recess at school and making leis out of the flowers with my friends. It seemed like I could associate memories from my childhood with everything around me, which was something I always desired to do. I loved Hawaii for a very different reason than anyone else who had been to Hawaii would love it.
The one week my family stayed in Hawaii was very eventful. I got the worst sunburn of my life and wore shorts for the first time in years. We climbed Diamond Head, a childhood memory for me and a tourist attraction to everyone else. I nearly died from exertion going up and remembered it being easier to climb as a child. We went snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, where I remembered being scared of the fish as a young girl and realized that I still am. We visited the Polynesian Culture Center, where we learned Tahitian dancing, how to split a coconut and how to climb a coconut tree. My mom and I introduced my step father, step sister and brother to a local candy shop where they serve the finest shaved ice in the world. We walked the strip and we met up with old friends. We did everything a tourist would do on vacation, but those were activities I did pretty much every weekend when I lived there. I realized that no matter how hard I tried all these years to fit into the “city-girl” criteria or to live like a southern gal, I’m an islander at heart. Going to Hawaii wasn’t a vacation. It was a trip back home.
When I moved to Europe in 2003, I didn’t take a trace of Hawaii with me. Instead, I left a part of myself there. When I went back, I found the part of me that I had missed for nearly nine years. I grew up around the world thinking I never had a home until I discovered that a home doesn’t have to be where you lived all your life – home is a place in which you feel like you belong. Home is where your heart is. I realized that I left my heart in Hawaii all along, and now I feel like there is a place on this earth I can claim. Leaving Hawaii, I was more confident than I had ever been in my life about where I stood as a person, and that being in a military family doesn’t mean you can't have any belongings. So, with a light-hearted attitude and a contented goodbye, I left my heart in Hawaii once again, but also took a piece of Hawaii with me – a tan.