“Where are you from?”
Usually, a simple, straightforward question innocently asked by someone trying to get to know you. Unless you are a military child, and then it’s a loaded, complicated question. In the past, I’ve answered “nowhere” or “everywhere” and then patiently explained that I was an Army Brat. We moved around a lot yada yada yada. That eventually got too tiresome so I usually just say Tennessee. Because out of all the places I’ve lived, Tennessee has been the one place I lived the longest. But I never felt like I belonged there, always felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. Just didn’t fit. When I moved away to Oregon, I felt, and still feel, more at home than any place I have ever lived. It’s okay to be weird and quirky and whatever you are here. The beauty is astounding, no matter how many times you see it. I feel the history of my family here, remember childhoods filled with love and wonder. But still a part of me is connected to Tennessee. I tell people I’m from there. That I grew up there because really, I did. I graduated high school and college there. My biggest and hardest life lessons were learned in the backwoods of that state. Some of my lowest and highest of times were spent under the kudzo and hickory trees. So many good memories have sunk into the clay, but all the awful things I went through after Baby Bee was born have overshadowed the life before. All the fear and threats and insecurity still haunt me. I get physically ill every time I have to come here to bring my son home. I plan my flights so I spend as less time as possible in the town I’ve grown to dread. I have family here. I have friends and acquaintances and beloved professors still here that I’d love to see. But my anxiety and my confusion and the out right FEAR I have associated with this place prevent me from enjoying my visits. Sometimes I just fork out money and stay in a hotel in Nashville in order to avoid the feels.
Today I landed a little after four in the afternoon and had my brother pick me up. As we were driving down I-24 I was struck by the beauty of a Southern spring. It’s different than the rugged, awe-inspiring spectacle that is the Northwest. Oregon’s air is sharp and pure, the trees a jagged deep green you can feel in your bones. The mountains and river are so drastic they slap you in the face. Tennessee’s beauty is gentle…rolling like the hills and slow like the old rivers. The green of the trees is soft, the air is soft & heavy. The beauty whispers to you and runs its fingers through your hair. I forgot that this state could be a sweet, gentle friend. It was a dictator to me for so long, I forgot how to love it. Today I’m remembering how. I sat on the banks of a (non-snow melt) river and drank my favorite peach wine from a local winery while laughing with my little brother about crazy shit we did growing up. I heard my father in his words, and our mother in my voice. I longed for my son and boyfriend to share this homecoming with me. For once I didn’t feel like running away. I wanted to feel the embrace of Tennessee again, to be flooded by good memories instead of bad ones. I still haven’t been back to our old house, or anywhere near it. I probably never will make it back. There are some things better left buried deep in the ground. This town has changed so much I barely recognize it, and that’s okay. It makes it less painful that way I think. I can pretend I’m in a foreign city and not one painfully familiar.
I’m ready to go home now. Home to Oregon where I’ve made a life for myself untainted by lies and manipulation with a man who would never dream of saying or doing things to me that were done to me before. A man who treats me and Baby Bee like people and not pawns to play in his game. Home to the life I’ve carefully and exhaustedly built to protect us and set my son up for a good life. Home to Oregon. To the sharp piney air and hypothermic rivers. To the slow left-lane drivers and silly hippies. Where I belong. And though I’ll be relieved when our plane takes off and points west tomorrow, I will leave a piece of my heart in the red Tennessee clay. Because no matter how hard I ignore it, or deny, or pretend it’s not there, this place will always be in my soul. I’m at once a southern girl and a northwest hippie and I can’t change that. So when people ask me where I’m from, I will probably continue to answer “Tennessee.” Or maybe I’ll revert back to my fail safe “everywhere.”