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Monday, March 04, 2024

During my four long years of college, I developed a least favorite question.

Part of me shut down every time I heard it. Unfortunately, it’s possibly the most common query when meeting new people.

“Where are you from?”

“Um. Well, I’m originally from Clearwater,” became my default response. It doesn’t actually answer the question, but it’s good enough to satisfy people uninterested in hearing the real answer.

That, I suppose, is not so simple.

I didn’t have the glamorous high school career many UF students did before coming to Gainesville. It’s not that I wasn’t the homecoming king, the star quarterback or even the valedictorian, the editor of the yearbook, Most Likely To Succeed, whatever.

And don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t any of those things, either.

The truth is, I attended four schools in four years, including one taking online-only classes and a less-than-a-week run at a school that took off three days each year for what boiled down to a tri-county cattle festival. You know, so the students could show off their animals.

And I lived in a trailer at the time. I wish I was kidding — really, I do.

My first 14 years before that were blessedly boring. Nothing ever changed, and I was just fine with that. I lived in the same small house in Clearwater, attended two schools from kindergarten through high school and ran with the same group of friends.

But a series of shake-ups in my family sent me from my comfortable, predictable world to a few years where the only real constant in my life was my dog, a spirited little dachshund named Happy.

I had to grow up faster than I would have liked to, maybe even faster than I should have had to.

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Somewhere between then and now, I lost the concept of what home looked like.

Somewhere between living in Clearwater and Steinhatchee and Chattanooga, Tenn., and Steinhatchee again and Gainesville and Clearwater again and Tampa and Gainesville again, I decided I absolutely hated that question.

Home, in theory, is wherever I can be together with my mom and my brother, Chad — whether it’s my parents’ dining room table or a rest stop on the interstate, they make anywhere feel like home. That part has always been easy.

But where do I call home?

Since my sophomore year of high school ended in May 2005, I have made 10 different rooms my own.  I’m about to add No. 11, and it’s in a city, San Francisco, that I’ve never been anywhere near.

Where am I from?

I’ve all but cut my ties to Clearwater. I wasn’t in Tennessee long enough to plant any roots. Gainesville is where I went to school. And while Steinhatchee is a getaway paradise like no other, you can’t exactly develop a lifelong fondness for a town with no traffic lights, a reputation built around scalloping and a nightlife that consists solely of karaoke at Hungry Howie’s.

When I left Gainesville last April, off into the real world of internships for eight months, I realized my old apartment was the first place in five years I had lived for two consecutive falls.

As I leave Gainesville now, this time for good but once again off into the real world of internships and hopefully jobs and careers, I am leaving behind a comfortable home I have established here.

And I’m far more sad to be doing so.

I look around the Alligator office five nights a week at the same weary, tired, determined, talented, hilarious people — often more familiar with their personalities and problems than my own.

I’ve probably spent more time here this semester than in my actual house. I’ve done things that were foolishly ambitious, like creating the alligatorSports Podcast and Video Show.

I’ve plotted and schemed with Greg Luca, my unbelievably talented and hard-working assistant editor, to run as much of our original content as possible, even if it came at the expense of my hairline and cost Greg his childlike sense of wonderment.

But I’ve had the time of my life doing it all.

I have poured myself into each story, paper, podcast, video show and so on. The reward has been a few nice lines on my résumé, an unexpectedly fulfilling experience at the nation’s largest (and best) student-run newspaper and some of the greatest friends I could have ever asked for.

These people, and everyone I’ve worked with here along the way, have become like brothers and sisters. I talk about Kyle, Mike, DiFer, Phil, Bobby, Chiang, Tyler, Greg, Corey, Jesse and Liz like I’ve known them forever.

They made this experience worthwhile.

So, perhaps I’ll never have a good answer when someone asks where I’m from. Maybe I’ll start giving different responses at random — Clearwater one day, Chattanooga the next, Steinhatchee every third day. I could just start making stuff up or dodging the question altogether.

But I know what home feels like. And if anyone ever asks me where I found a home away from wherever home may be, I won’t have to hesitate, because it’s right here.

In this office. On these pages.

With these people.

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