What To Say When You Don’t Know Where You’re From

I cringe whenever I’m asked the question, “Where are you from?” The question in itself is very innocent and harmless, however every time I hear it, I panic a little as I try to figure out how to respond. When you’re in college and meet new people, one of the first questions they ask you is almost always, “Where are you from?”, so this question has been on my mind a lot in the past couple of years.

I’ve never stayed in the same place for very long. I grew up in a military family. My dad served in the Air Force for 23 years, 16 of those being after I was born. However, a majority of the moving I’ve done has not been because of my dads job, but because of my parents divorce. My dad had done a lot of moving for the military before my sister and I were born, and had a relatively stable position by the time we came along.

I was born in Alabama, moved to Indiana when I was 2, then moved to Ohio at age 5. I’ve lived in Ohio since then, however due to my parents divorce, I continued to move every couple years. We moved when they first split up, moved again when my mom found a better house, my dad moved when he met my step-mom, then he moved again and I moved in with him, then my mom moved and I moved back in with her when my dad was deployed. There’s a couple more moves back & forth between parents in there, but you get the general idea. I moved all around Ohio. The longest I was ever in one school district was 4 years, and even then there was a brief move & then move back to that same school (it’s a long and complicated story).

So, I was always the new kid in school. Always adapting to new environments and new people. This part of it was never very hard for me; I learned to adapt at a very young age, and it came naturally to me. Sometimes it took a while, but I always found a place where I fit in whenever I moved. I’m grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve received to experience new places and meet new people.

However, there’s one part of the constant moving that still affects me, even though that’s not my life anymore: I never had a childhood home. We moved around so much that even though the longest I was in a school district was 4 years, the longest I’ve ever lived in a single house was about 2 to 3 years. On top of this, my entire family (minus a few people who have moved away) lives in Wisconsin. My whole family is from there, both my parents were born and raised there, and most of my family members still live there. In summary, I currently live in an apartment in Oxford; my dad, step mom, and little siblings live in Indiana; my mom lives in New York, and virtually everyone else in my family lives in Wisconsin.

Because of all of this, I’ve never known how to respond when someone asks me where I’m from. Do they want to know where I was born? Where I currently live? Where my family lives? Where my family is from? Where my parents live? All are different answers, and I’ve realized I don’t really know what people mean when they ask where you’re from. For a lot of people the answer is simple; they’ve lived in the same area their whole lives, or at least grew up in the same area. However, whenever I answer the question, I either awkwardly explain that I’m not really from any one place and end up having a too-long conversation about my complicated situation, or just tell them where I went to high school.

The closest thing I’ve ever had to a childhood home has been the house my grandpa built in a little town called Kendall, Wisconsin when I was just a baby. It’s the one stable place I’ve had throughout my whole life, the place that’s always felt like coming home. All of our family reunions are there, and I have countless memories of time there with my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends.

I never consciously realized the attachment I had to this house until my mom texted me and said that my aunts, who had been living there since my grandpa passed away, had sold it. I was very confused and didn’t think she was being serious at first; no one had mentioned anything to me about even considering selling the house. Apparently, the upkeep was becoming too much for my aunts, and one of them wanted to move down to Janesville to be closer to her son and grandkids.

My immediate reaction was denial. It couldn’t be true, right? They would never actually sell that house. I always thought it would be in our family forever. The thought of anyone else living there is still so strange to me. I called my mom and both of the aunts that live there. I cried and begged them not to sell it. They had no idea how much it meant to me. I won’t be able to say goodbye to it, because it sold much quicker than they expected it to while I was studying abroad in Europe. I’m likely never going to see the inside of that house again, and I’m definitely never going to see it with all of the things inside of it that made it my home.

It’s been a hard thing to deal with. It all became very real when I met up with my aunt in Chicago and took boxes home filled with things from the house. I tell myself that on the grand scheme of things not having a childhood home to come back to is not a serious issue at all. I remind myself that I’m extraordinary lucky to have the things I do and the family that I do. I think it’s valid though, feeling like something is missing when I hear people talking about going home, and grieving over the closest thing I’ll ever have to a childhood home.

I’ve spent a lot of time being jealous of people when they talk about going home. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have lived in the same place my whole life. To always have the same home to come back to. To have neighbors to know and be friends with. To have the same friends since kindergarten. To know how to respond to the question “Where are you from?” and not feel like you’re only telling the partial truth when you answer. I think I’ll always feel a little jealousy over it.

But lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and about how lucky I am to have what I do. I have a family who loves and supports me no matter what. I have some of the greatest friends I could ever ask for that I also consider part of my family. I get to live in an apartment in the beautiful little town of Oxford, which has definitely stolen a piece of my heart and will always be a home for me. I feel at home in Oxford, I feel at home at my dad’s house in Indiana, I feel at home in Wisconsin with my family. I’ve realized that, as cheesy as it is, “home” really is more of a feeling than a place. I’ve been incredibly lucky in the sense that, even though I’ve never had a home in one place, I’ve always had a place that feels like home, thanks to the people surrounding me. So, while I’m sad to let go of my grandpa’s house, I know that I’ll always have a home as long as I have my family. And what more could anyone ask for?