All my life, I couldn’t wait to leave you behind. As soon as I turned eighteen, I would find a great school (definitely NOT MUW) and would find all my happiness in Nashville, Tennessee as a renowned pianist or something. And then I went to MUW. And then I officially moved downtown, into the heart of you. I could walk to Fred’s for eggs & milk, to Le Gourmet (RIP) for chocolate truffles, and to The Front Door for chicken salad. I remember my first apartment, mere steps away from Painter Hall and the winter evenings I would take my neighborhood walks just as dusk was grasping the town once again. I remember (and I’m about to reveal one of my creepy traits) my favorite thing was looking in the windows of the houses as families were setting out their fall/Christmas decorations. I loved looking in the windows of the houses along my walks (from the street, mind you, with the drapes clearly wide open and bright lights shining out into the street), but my gaze was always in desire for my own home with light in the window. I remember walking up and down these numbered streets and praying that I too would one day have a home that had light always in the windows. I wanted anyone who would drive or walk by to feel warmth and love from such light as a signal that this place was a safe place, a welcoming place for anyone who needed it. You planted those seeds of desire in my heart.
You wooed me with your haunts and river stories, with your quiet ways and dedication to tradition. And like two new lovers learning to live together, I saw firsthand all your many flaws. The old money that chokes your progress at times. The turned-up noses of privileged Air Force wives because you have the audacity to lack a Target and not be Italy. The unfortunate complacency of your more popular young citizens who stayed, not necessarily because they could make it better, but because being a big fish in a small pond was better than moving away where they might be a nobody. Or the twisted and conniving ways that the personal inflicts business, thus sabotaging a person’s chances for reasons having nothing to do with business. And then there are the even deeper wounds intertwined with race, poverty, and privilege – the dividing lines we know are there but never talk about save the hushed tones and snide glances.
But I know you, and I know you are meant for great things. I know your cracks in your sidewalks and your vacant, lonely buildings. I know don’t have an Olive Garden, but that’s okay, because Olive Garden sucks. I have the recipe for that chicken & gnocchi soup, so I don’t need them anyway. And I know you ache with passion for life and movement as you dodge the blows of “the old ways” and “this is how we’ve always done it.”
I did leave you, but I return to you every once in a while because you keep drawing me back (and because people won’t stop getting married). And you still fit like a glove. You still know my ways and dreams, and you always find the real me when she threatens to slip away, yanking the roots from her beloved first to become too big for herself in “the city.” But the city grows on me each day, and I still hear you call me by name to keep me humble.
I don’t know if I’ll ever return for good, and I don’t know whether I want to or not. But I remember how you raised me. I know better than to fall for the mustaches and jorts and snooty coffee shops and FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE get a job you trust-fund, white-privileged, freelance-writing/photographing/blogging/designing hipster! I’m from Mississippi and I work in nonprofits, I KNOW what real poor people look like, quit pretending you can’t afford more than a two dollar T-shirt while you pay $100 for your hair. I don’t fall for that because I only pay $50 for my hair.
But it’s home now. And if I ever walk into a shop or restaurant and not be treated with the utmost hospitality, it’ll be rare. They do you proud here. And while the rest of the world has decided to move here too, they haven’t forgotten they’re in the South. If someone’s rude to me, I know it’s because they’re a transplant and they just don’t have their mama to sit them right down and say mind your manners. Someone will teach them how we do things eventually.
Keep your charm. Keep local. Keep growing. You don’t have to be anybody else but yourself.