Jacksonville, North Carolina has been part of my life since December of 1995, when I married a young jarhead and moved there with Tyler. I was 21. I remember one of the first things I saw was the Driftwood bar. It had no windows.
“What’s that place?” I asked Roger.
“It’s a titty bar,” he said. Yes, he said that.
“What’s a titty bar?”
“It’s a strip club,” he said casually.
I didn’t realize I would see a real-life strip club. I had never seen one before living in the small town of Southampton, Massachusetts. Now, it’s not surprising and I’m not offended by it either.
I remember thinking what have I gotten myself into? Uncle Lee, who had been to Jacksonville many times during his career in the USMC, warned me about the town, and I understand why. At first, Jacksonville was terrifying to me with its fast, angry traffic, pawn shops with flashing signs that read, “We Buy Guns,” and all the bars because that’s all you see when you enter the town, but after a short amount of time, I saw the rest of it, and it became home.
We moved around a bit in Jacksonville before we settled, then when Roger passed, we moved again. We lived in five different places during our 20 years in NC the first time. Each time, our home felt safe, comfortable. To be fair, in true military wife form, I can make a home out of a paint bucket, but it was more than that.
Jacksonville had the people that made it a home for me. Although it’s a city with a population of over 70,000, you see people you know everywhere, making it feel less grand and menacing.
What’s weird is that we haven’t been back to Jacksonville since we moved back to NC in May. It’s only about 45 minutes away, but I can’t bring myself to do it. There are many people who I’d love to have coffee with and many kids who I haven’t seen since they were young and short, but there’s a barrier of some sort that won’t allow me to go there. I don’t know if I’m ready to see my old houses, the Food Lion grocery store we went to for many years, or the boys’ schools, which each hold a bit of our hearts.
There are no demons in Jacksonville, but there are memories, and maybe I’m not ready to deal with the emotions yet. I know that Band-Aid is stuck on there well, and I need to rip it off, but I am not sure when that will be. Also, even though Roger’s “rock” or marker, is at the Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, his urn is at the house, so I’m not particularly drawn to the open field of granite and names. I do know, however, the cemetery will be difficult to visit as well, because we had his graveside ceremony there.
Maybe it’s all just too much, and I know I will visit one day. It’ll probably be on a whim and I will have tissues on hand, and lots of film for my mind’s Kodak. We’ll eat lunch at Logan’s and tour the city, looking at old places we once knew, and talking about the past. The more I write this post today, the more I want to go back and visit the city that I love, Jacksonville, North Carolina.