Ten years ago today, I flew into St. Thomas for the very first time. I had never been here. I knew no one. The family I had that were from St. Thomas had long since left. I knew I had an aunt and uncle still in St. Croix but still hadn't learned just how far that really was.
My mother thought I was so adventurous and thought that it wouldn't last long. I will admit: I starved that first year. I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had no car, no money, but I was so happy. For the first time in my life... well, I felt home.
I grew up in an interesting and unstable way. By the time I graduated high school, I had been to 13 different schools. Needless to say, I didn't have many opportunities to cultivate friendships. I never really considered anywhere to be my hometown. I didn't know one could feel a sense of belonging. I had just assumed that everyone was an outsider like me. Everyone had a dark past. Everyone had a horror story that we were too ashamed to admit. When I was younger I had learned, after all, that when you did admit something was wrong, no one believed you anyway. I figured a sense of self worth was just a charade people put on to better cope. I didn't know people actually belonged. Then, here, I belonged. Just 20 years old and I finally found it: home. Home just happened to come at a high cost.
After the first year, I attempted to return Stateside only to go to Puerto Rico, and then see the Rockies for the first time ever. I spent the next few years going back and forth between various locations to appease my then boyfriend and his desire to expand his resume.
Then I put my foot down. I wanted to go home.
And home we went. My home. St. Thomas. Man it felt good to be back. We settled, adopted an island mutt, bought a car. Grown up stuff. I went back to school. I never finished, but that is another story all together.
In the past decade, I found and lost love. I got my first tattoo. I played in a real band. I found my family. My real family. You know who you are. I became obsessed with invertebrates. I saw sharks in the wild. I went horseback riding. I went hang-gliding in a rainforest. I went whitewater rafting on the Yellowstone River. I got lost in a box canyon in the Southwest. I played in a waterfall. I saw monkeys steal my beer. I had my first white Christmas. I drove cross-country. I made art. I played radio. I had a knee fixed. I fell apart. I lost my mind. I found my heart.
I hope, moving into the next decade of my life, that I continue to have firsts. I wasn't fortunate enough to have a sense of worth or belonging growing up how I did. This past decade has given me that, at last. It was (and still is) very much a struggle, but it is one I would do all over again just to feel so good in this skin. Just to feel the moments of happiness I have felt. Genuine happiness.
The friendships I have managed to keep mean so much to me. It is so much more than that. They are my family. More so than people who are "blood" can be. They are the family I chose, or rather, they are the family that accepted and chose me. It is a small part of why this place feels so home to me.
Culturally, I fit. Being 1st generation stateside from two Caribbean island parents made the culture and way of life on island so easy to assimilate to when I got here. I had none of the qualms so many statesiders had when moving here. I still don't. I hate the phrase, "typical West Indian" because, technically, I am West Indian. My mother is from Puerto Rico and my father is from Cuba. Yeah. Also, this is the only place I have ever lived for more than two years. This is my home. Don't like it? Too bad. More beaches for me.
Really, though, I approach today with a slight sense of grief. I could have done more. Seen more. Loved more. I am sad that the decade is over without much left to show for it except for my memories. I guess that is all we really truly ever have, though, isn't it?
I can't wait to see what my home has in store for me next. I live and love St. Thomas. So much has changed yet so much is still the same. This is my home. And here I will stay.