When people think of Florida, they think of amusement parks, sunshine and beautiful beaches. A place to go relax and have fun and get away from the daily grind of life. They head there for vacation, but eventually it's time to pack up and head back to the real world.
Many years ago I packed my bags and headed to Florida to continue my education. I had visited there a few times in my younger years, but only for vacation, not to live. I was heading there after being invited by my aunt to checkout a junior college in their area.
I remember it vividly. The excitement of the adventure ahead of me. This teenage boy from Indiana leaving the Hoosier State for the Sunshine State. I enrolled in school and loved it. Money was a huge struggle, but I was making it. There were some bumps in the road, but I persevered.
The thing I soon realized was how great I felt, just not physically, but mentally. I wasn't sure why I felt so great at the time, but I was in Florida and that's all that mattered. Life was good, no not good, it was fantastic.
Things were just moving along, I had school, I was working and I was beginning to make some really good friends. I thought this is it, I found where I was meant to be. But as we learn in life, all good things must come to an end.
I returned home one afternoon and there was a message from my aunt that I needed to call my mom back in Indiana. I knew it couldn't be good because my parents never called me, but I called them occasionally. I did and as I thought no good news.
My mom informed men that my younger sister that I was close to at the time had attempted suicide. She attempted to overdose on pills but was caught in time. I told my mom I would catch the next plane home. My parents caught me as I was leaving for the airport and told me my sister wanted me not to come. I was given a wide assortment of reasons, so I didn't go. I was devastated. From that moment on I lost my Florida.
Yes MY FLORIDA! It was no longer just a physical place, but a state of mind for me. It was a place free of my dysfunctional family and all the misery that went with it. This was my place for a new beginning and a life where I could truly be me and not working so hard to be different than my family and doing things just to prove I'm not them.
I was learning what it meant to have true unconditional relationships. I was learning what it meant to be hardworking and disciplined. The were all things I never did back home. Back home I worked hard at being nonexistent. I did what it took to be accepted by others because all my relationships were built on conditions and too many conditions to list.
That moment began a huge domino effect that eventually sent me packing back to Indiana. My Florida was gone. I was once again smack dab in the middle of dysfunction USA. Most of my friends were gone, either off to college or moved away for jobs. I worked whatever jobs I could knowing I needed to finish school. I finished school, got married, had a family and no regrets for that. What I do regret that during this time I never got back to my Florida.
I keep saying I want to go back to Florida, but I hear how it would probably be different now. I know it would be. But as I've said, Florida is not a place on a map for me, it is a state of mind.