7th grade was the greatest year of my life. At least up until that point. For an extrovert, my class size just increased exponentially. I went from the same group of friends in every class to having a different group of friends in each class. Each subject was a new adventure in class pranks. There was my geography teacher’s velcroed toupee that never matched his eyebrows in color or movement. We tried to land erasers in it without him noticing. My biology teacher’s aquarium that we built pencil ships to sail in. Lunch and PE, an excursion from pseudo-learning into pseudo-exercising. English- girl taunting, math- paper wad basketball, and walking the halls- chariot races. I think that I learned something. It was the introduction into a social butterfly’s dream. I knew that the next five years would be unbelievable.

The summer before I would begin 8th grade we moved to Florida.

600 miles away from every friend I had ever had.

I started from scratch. Well, not completely from scratch. I had my trusty Eskimo Spitz named Cotton, two brothers that I still outweighed by 30 pounds and could beat up, and a sister who was four. In no particular order. Except for Cotton. That first year was hard. Making new friends with people that hadn’t necessarily reserved space in their worlds for me proved challenging. The first week at lunch I sat with cheerleaders. As amazing as that sounds, it was because I was sitting by myself and they came over because they felt sorry for me. Which is still sweet. I muddled through the year the exact opposite way that I anticipated 8th grade would have gone.

When the school year ended my parents let us go back home and spend the summer with my grandparents. It was an interesting summer. To my surprise, all of my friends had gone on without me. The chasm that I left in their lives with my departure was quickly filled with, well, chasm-filling-stuff. My anticipation of how we would pick up where we all left off was met with a realization that they didn’t even realize that I was gone. It’s an odd place to live- homeless.

At the end of the summer my grandparents drove us back. We were met by fun-deprived parents and my dad said, “That’ll never happen again.” I looked at him confused. “This house was too quiet. Every single day we missed you and I regretted letting all of you go. You can’t go from a house of six to a house of two overnight. Never again. We just missed you.” I didn’t get it. I think I still had whiplash from my introduction to the gypsy life.

Tiffanni and I started dating in the same city where several years before I was introduced to loneliness. We lived on a small college campus and recognized nearly everyone. Even before we started dating, our time together increased. I would walk her to breakfast in the morning, find her between classes, meet her for lunch and dinner, and spend every night until curfew doing any number of things. Appropriate things. We were rarely apart. If that wasn’t enough, we would usually talk on the phone after curfew for awhile each night until I finally begged off to write a paper or two before we hit repeat the next day. In a city 600 miles away from the only place that I ever knew as home, a city that I never expected to meet a single friend, I found my best friend.

We’ve spent the last 20 years mostly inseparable. From that first walk across campus to now chauffeuring her everywhere that she goes, we’re together a lot. We built a family together which is pretty amazing when you take some time to think about it. There are three kids that exist because she and I fell in love. And because of that, I’ve fallen in love with my kids.

I don’t like it when the kids are gone. Not one of them. The house feels wrong. The dynamic is off because something, someone is missing. I really do want to let them grow up and discover themselves and spend the night out with friends that they could have forever, but I hate it. While they’re out making memories, I’m trying to hold on to them. My kids have lived in five different homes with me and Tiff- all in the same city. And I was content in every one. Because they were there. Home was never about a place, a house. It was always about a relationship. We could move a dozen more times and nothing would change. Home is where you’re loved unconditionally, where every moment matters, where you pile into the bed wadded up like puppies and watch another episode of Full House, where you play bad board games with made up rules, where you break bedtime to tell another story, where you wrestle and laugh and hug and cry. Home is where my kids are. My kids are home. And I’m never letting them go off for the summer.