The reality of the situation did not hit until the boxes were being sealed, until our home became just a house.
After over twelve years in Northern Italy...
In February 2018, my mother was finally diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that was painfully disrupting every aspect of her life. Years prior, when the symptoms began to surface minimally, doctors began pulling diagnosis from every corner; a doctor shouldn't be able to tell you that you have cancer without absolutely knowing it's factual base. I remember when my mother expressed that doctor's visit with me, my head flew into a panic, to hear the words "cancer" slip from her mouth. I had quietly spent every hour of every day prior, hoping and praying that it would not be cancer that they would find. Anything but cancer...
My mother, her stubbornness I inherited at full capacity, kept delaying what we all eventually began to beg for: take time off work and focus on her health. We could all see it getting worse. One night at dinner, she took a bite of a piece of lettuce from the prepared salad and the fork went flying back onto the plate from her hand; her eyes immediately clenched shut in pain and her hands were resting over her gaping mouth, too painful to shut. "It feels like razor blades". Lettuce, soft romaine lettuce leaf, felt like a razor blade. How is that fair?
Elation: the feeling that I was overcome with when I received the phone call from my mother, detailing that she would be returning to the United States to be seen by doctors at The Mayo Clinic. To whatever reason that finally made her change her mind...thank you. She would be flying back for just over a week to undergo testing and analysis with the hopes of diagnosis.
The first appointment lead to two more, which lead to four more, which totaled her days to anywhere from six to eight appointments, teams of doctors comparing test results and making decisions on what to test next in order to find the problem. It was finally happening, she was getting answers, we were getting answers. How bad could the truth be if you could finally access what you needed to help you live with it?
Auto-immune disease. Her body is killing her. Was this really better than cancer? Is it selfish of me to be thankful to not be sharply aware of my own mother's timeline? Just please keep fighting...no matter what. I can't imagine how my brother would function or how my sister would grow up....
Here we were though, with a handful of answer and a head full of confusion. The medications, the doctors visits, how was she going to get better in the midst of living? Her case stood out: it demanded attention, monitoring; there was not a known cure for her specific diagnosis.
By May 2018, the seemingly misplaced stepping stones of figuring out how to move forward began to fall into line and the sector responsible for my mother's job recognized that her case needed sensitive consideration. To me, the years of her dedication, of the countless hours and selfless love that she poured into her classroom, it all paid off: peers, higher ups, district heads - they all began to step in with a plus one on my mother's behalf. She was too much of an asset to DoDDS that they could not afford to lose her, so they moved her. Our Golden Ticket.
There were many weeks of unknown factors, stress in how soon to begin treatment, and job reassignment. There were losses in the midst of the big win; she would be leaving her beloved and fresh job title of Reading Specialist and returning to the classroom setting once again. After over three years of teaching fifth graders, over twelve years of second graders, and two years as a Specialist, she would be finding home in a grade level that she had always half-hoped she would teach one day: third grade.
Our family, since my father's retirement from the United States Air Force in 2005, became quiet adjusted to our stationary, civilian lifestyle. Our last move occurred in 2005 when my mother took over as our family's sponsor and we received orders to Aviano, Italy from Incirlik, Turkey. I was ten, my brother was five, and my sister was brand-spanking new into the world and all I remember was crying, a lot, on the first day of school. We hadn't moved as much as other military families, I was far more accustomed to my friends moving away before we ever did. So to say that the 2018 orders to Germany were almost unreal, it's because it honestly felt that way.
When the photos first began to come through, I almost couldn't believe that my family was moving from my childhood home, from our childhood home. Hayden, my brother, had spent his entire life growing up in Italy; his room was painted Tar Heel Blue and he used to sneak out of his ground-level window in highschool. Jenna, my sister, for her, Italy was all she knew; she was gaining rank in her Italian Futbol League, was bilingual by age four, and had never known another home than the one she was leaving. My dad, he had created a firewood storage unit in back of our home and we were always the house to stop at for Christmas light decorations. My mother, oh how she knew exactly how to enjoy a sunny summer morning on our porch, with fresh brewed cold tea.
The walls in the photos she sent me were blank; the rooms were empty, what was once our home became just an ordinary house again. The memories flooded harder; the spiral staircase that used to send me slipping halfway down if I was wearing socks, the shattered glass window pane on an interior door because we were probably throwing a ball in the house, the spiders that I used to find when I was opening the shutters to my ground-level window and the nights that I would sleep on the couch after finding one. The winters when my father would start a fire every evening and one by one we all somehow ended up pooled around it, dog and kitten included....you don't think much about the moments you've had in your home until you are leaving the environment that they were born in.
The sadness that lingers throughout my heart comes with gratitude for how wonderful of a home it was for our family, it comes with gratitude for the answers we've been given regarding my mother and for why this move was necessary. It came with a tinge when I looked over at Christopher and realized that he would never see the home that built me, like a chapter that was ripped out of a book for no one else to read. It felt so strange to accept that something so physical was going to be nothing but a memory.
There comes a time, all the time, when things are due for change. Most of the time, I feel like we are never ready for what it has in store for us, most of the time it feels far more frightening than exciting. The universe is pushing you and the easiest thing you can do is just take the fall with the hope of landing in place.
To my mother, oh God how my love for you has evolved and transformed. You are the absolute rock to our family, it is unfathomable to think of a life without you in it, and I am immeasurably thankful for the guidance that ultimately led us to our new home in Germany. Of the women I know, you are the strongest in every sense; it is easy for me to share my excitement in your new journey because I do not house the body feeding the fears revolved around it, but I know with certainty that you are due to excel. I love you and we are all here for you...