So this past week, I spend some time in Alabama. It’s the first time I’ve visited since the blog started almost a year ago, and I’ve gotta say, things have changed. I wish in the good way, but we don’t always get what we want.
There’s a sickness down here, and there’s something elegant about how that sickness meshes so well with beauty. The south still has the grip of ‘home’ on me, and it’s easy to be taken away by the spectacle of nature. The Appalachian mountains look too pristine to be real, and the songs of the tree frogs and cicadas were the lullabies of my childhood. But I’m smart enough to know rot when I see it. It’s been four years since I lived here, and fifteen since I started my path to self-awareness, and I still see just as much ugly as I always have. And I fucking hate it.
Nothing makes me feel as conflicted as I do when I stand outside at night, wrapped up in the warm, humid air and listening to the songs of the forest. Even in town, you’ll hear it if you go outside late enough. Nature permeates everything here. At my aunt’s house in town, only a couple blocks from the highway, I can still smell magnolia trees and hear whip-poor-wills up the in mountains situated around us.
It’s so easy to imagine that I’m a child again. Maybe I’ll drive out to my home town, over an hour away in the rural recesses of the Appalachians’ tail, and find my house as I remember it. My grandather still alive. My grandmother’s iris garden blooming. But I know that I won’t. The truth is, I’m thirty years old now. My grandfather has been dead since I was in the tenth grade, taken far too soon. My childhood home is abandoned. In truth, my craving for these familiar things is nothing more than the paralyzation of nostalgia, and a deep and sincere wish for more time.
I cherish those memories, but things can’t be the same. I imagine most people go through that, but I often feel like my heart is too reluctant to let go. And once I recognize this burden and turn my eyes from the past to the present, I realize what actually surrounds me.
The fear of ‘otherness’ from my childhood is still here. Perhaps it’s worse, or perhaps I merely notice it more keenly now.
I remember being bullied in elementary school for having a New England stepfather. “Yankee, Yankee!” they would sing as they danced around me. I remember their names and their faces to this day. They probably don’t remember me. But they taught me that no outsiders were allowed in the sacred realm of Alabama, where people take pride in traitorous Confederates and fear those from the outside.
There is racism and discrimination everywhere, but when I go home, I feel like I can’t escape it. I am non-Christian. My stepfamily is non-southern. I was rejected before I had a chance to even understand why. Part of me in anchored there, longing for things to be the way they were, before I realized the truth.
I don’t miss Alabama, but I miss what I thought it was. What it should be. What it can be, but I fear it never will.