I get nostalgic this time of year. It was 19 years ago this year that I decided to pack up my broken heart and pet rabbit and leave my small town life for God knows what in a strange northern place called Minnesota. I was leaving Kingston Spring, Tennessee, a town that once offered the Ce Bon Motel (pronounced See Bonn) and the Dixie Doodle, a burger joint that would, sadly, change its name to the less colorful I-40 Truck Stop. It was a place that reared, damaged, and taught me. I learned to love deepest nature. I learned to watch my back.
Born of deep rocked pain, for which that tender heart was hardly prepared, was the need to move, a hunger for everything that was not my severed life. The pain of love failed, love taken, created first a resounding hum like a cuff to the ear or a touch of almost lethal live wire. That it did not kill me immediately should have been a sign. But in such situations, we are too deep in that well to have any kind of needed perspective. When your heart is broken, the world can, in an instant, become a violent kaleidoscope seared to the face, its colorful menagerie the product of outside chaos and of the soul sick rising up through the guts of your heart. When I would come to look back on the night in question, the night when it all changed, what I recall most are the sharp lines around her face and around the gaudy pictures filling the wall behind her. Before that moment, they had all been a part of a harmonious whole. Face, family, future, all tethered seamlessly by what could only have been that place, that time, that sense of fortune I felt had finally found me in adulthood.
For years after moving I wanted novelty without excitement, something to keep my mind from thinking about what was left behind, but I wasn't ready to feel. My new Minnesota landscape was just that, a minimalist backdrop onto which I splattered activities to make it seem like movement. I feared the opening of wounds, the revivification of life proper, the warming glow of the machine that makes us feel so much. But soon the past begins to fade as you start taking steps. I felt the need for fire. Flushing the pipes with salty air and stinging truths. I found myself opening up to new people and to old ones. I listened to Flannery O'Connor and cried while she laughed. I shook hands with the words of William Gay, from Hohenwald, TN and felt a kin. With them I wanted it. I wanted pain. I wanted their articulation of what I sensed but to which I could put no good words. I soaked up their sweat and sorrow and watched with them how the day stretched shadows to the edge of the town. I wanted them to hurt me, and with each eloquent barb, I laughed, a little more saved. It was a welcome comfort to discover I could once again feel without having to die.
And so years later I sit, having met wonderful people that would change my life forever, even one I helped create. I can look back on my Tennessee roots not with rose glasses nor bitterness. I can see it for what it was and appreciate it for same. To me Independence Day will always mean not being tethered to that which makes you less, but being a part of that which helps to make all of it more.