by Emma Baines-Dinning
The only thing I knew about this town before I came to live here was its name.
Three weeks before, we’d married each other on a gloriously sunny day in early June, the forecasted thunderstorm mercifully a no-show. Not to be too disgustingly romantic or cliché about the whole thing, but it was, without doubt, the most wonderful day of my life.
We didn’t know this was coming, him and me.
He’d been deployed a few weeks before Christmas in 2014 and wasn’t due home until the following March. I spent two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period face down in a gin and tonic and playing explosive games of Monopoly with my sister. He spent his in a scorching, dusty desert eating a subpar Christmas dinner and sinking warm non-alcoholic beer with people he’d quickly grown to know. If you’d have asked us then what was on our agenda for 2015, we probably wouldn’t have said getting married and moving to the ends of the earth. There wasn’t a single plan in place for a wedding; there wasn’t a single plan in place for packing up eight and a half years of a life together in the house that shaped us.
We could never say our life is predictable. That’s just not how it goes when you are tethered to the military.
He returned from his deployment, all sand-filled fatigues hiding a harder body. His face tanned and freckled, slimmer. Hefty bags dropped at his tired, boot-laden feet. It used to shock me, how different he could look when he came home. Like having a stranger in my house until the deployment begins to fade off him, fade off us.
We set about going from living apart to living together again; a dance that has, thankfully, become less complicated over the years; our steps and rhythms falling in sync much quicker these days. And then he received a phone call that would change the pace of every step we knew.
That phone call gave us ninety days notice to organise our wedding, get married, pack up our house – our life – and head in the direction of starting from scratch.
That was a year ago and I still cannot fathom how we did it, but I know that none of it would have been made possible were it not for the abundant generosity, time and love of our most excellent family and friends. My heart still bursts every time I think of it.
Obviously, we skipped the honeymoon. There just wasn’t time. Instead, on one of the hottest days in June, we took a five hundred mile road trip north towards a new beginning; my surname still so new to me that it felt foreign on my tongue every time I said it. I felt every single one of those miles we travelled fall behind me that day, like I was shedding the parts of myself I’d outgrown.
I could hear my heart beating in my ears; feel my breath catch in my throat; feel the fear rising up from my gut as we travelled further away from everything we knew. And yet, the only thing more incomprehensible to me than uprooting our life like this was not uprooting our life at all. It felt right, even if the stifling, scary place beyond my comfort zone made me tearful and uneasy. It felt right because otherwise I would have stayed, and he would have gone, and that wasn’t even an option we considered.
We spent our first night in a welcome flat the Armed Forces put us up in right near the beach. The beach that would quickly find its way into the pocket of my heart; all grassy dunes and soft sand and a magnificent, ever-changing ocean and sky that makes the stirred-up part of me still; quiets the world for a while. Makes me wonder now how I will ever be able to leave it when the time comes, and it will.
We marvelled at how close we were to the sea. Scrunched our toes into the sand; listened to the chattering seagulls and breathed in salty air that made me nostalgic for where I grew up; rested our eyes on the horizon as the water glinted in the late evening light. We found a cute little pizzeria on the high street to have dinner in; turned corner after corner onto unfamiliar, unexplored streets. And all the time I kept my eye out for some nook of this town that reminded me of home, tried to stem the panic from filling up every available space because suddenly I’d remember what we were doing here, that this wasn’t just a holiday; that we were here to grow, build a life.
And yet, none of this is permanent. This will not be our only beginning. There will be other new towns and other new houses, other new neighbours and other new friendships forged. We are just passing through here. I can’t tell you how long we will stay, or when we will leave. But then, that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it? And since when was adventure ever meant to feel comfortable?