I wouldn't trade living in our new home in the outer 'burbs for anything. Yet, when I drive onto base I'm suddenly flooded with a sigh of relief and a twinge of homecoming.
Could it be that I'm missing the bubble that I so feverishly sought to avoid for so many years?
For six of our seven duty stations, we lived off base. On purpose. I wanted a more authentic connection with the cities and towns we were stationed in, and I hoped that living in town would encourage local friendships. At the very least, I would feel less like my husband's military connected somehow extended to me.
Alas, the one duty station we opted to live on base may have just ruined me forever.
It was too good.
Sure, the house was teensy weensy. Naturally, the yard needed major rehabilitation. Yes, I refused to drink the water from the surely lead-and-toxins-laden pipes. Of course, I rolled my eyes at the endless emails from the eager property management folks on every tiny little update and rule.
I'm telling you, there was a deeper magic going on.
Despite the fact that my kitchen sink window faced my neighbor's kitchen sink window with less than twenty feet to spare, some of our closest military friendships to date blossomed there.
I walked everywhere: to the commissary, to the library, to the children's park, to the dog park, to the running trail, to the colocated club and to my friend's houses.
My neighbors would show up with leftover Halloween candy in the autumn and freshly homemade cookies in springtime. My dog knew every pet in our housing section, and would dash towards his favorite houses on our walks. My toddler knew which mommy always packed extra snacks during park playdates (hint: it wasn't me).
During weekends devoid of much activity, we'd throw a big backyard cookout, and anyone who could see into our fenceless backyard would come with the kids and a side dish. When the weather was nice, we mommies would throw open the back door and let the kids play in the dirt together.
The crowning jewel? Our baby monitors could stretch between each other's very-very-close-together homes. Which meant endless possibilities for our collective sanity.
We felt so safe, so connected and so responsible for one another. And when the 5:00 p.m. retreat would blare over the housing loudspeakers and we all froze for the national anthem, we felt proud.
Listen, I know my rearview is rose-tinted. There were plenty of unpleasantries to on-base living, chiefly a nagging feeling of a lack of privacy and a pressure to "keep up" socially. Yet, the small annoyances I've mostly forgotten, like the dog park needing a double gate, or our horrid dishwasher from another century, or the bossy commissary checker, or the pesky closet door which would constantly fall off.
Our on-base housing and our friendships during that time made our assignment more than bearable. It made it special. I'm grateful for how it encouraged me to embrace the military lifestyle on a new level, and fully allow myself to get swept up in the flow of base life. The experience nudged me to understand military life in a deeper sense.
Sarah writes about life in the US Air Force, raising a Jewish family and interfaith marraige. She lives in Tucson with her husband, son and daughter. Her idea of perfection is walking her dog, reading in a hammock and eating breakfast tacos. She has a BA in Political Science and Chinese and a Masters in Public Affairs.