The Tragedy of Growing Up Smart in Alabama
You landed there by chance, probably. Maybe your family started out there, but they probably didn’t.
You moved there when you were 3 years old. One of your first memories in Alabama was thinking, as a toddler, I’m never going to sound like that. One of your first tragedies moving towards middle school was realizing I’m going to have to try to sound like that. Otherwise, like a test chicken with a red spot painted on, you’ll be pecked to death. So, you stumble with that twang on your tongue, and it tastes like poison. The second tragedy is when you realize that twang is in me. And try as you might, you can’t flush it out. You thought you were a safe chameleon, but it came with a price. Almost your soul, not quite.
Tennis lessons in middle school, terrible popular girls who have reached that status not because they were raised with any care for grammar, or diction, or how to edit a piece of prose until it shines, but because their daddy has a car dealership. Stupid medium fish, shallow murky pond. It gets late; the mosquitoes bite. You say we need some insect repellent, because that is what you need, and one of the smirky girls says, why can’t you say BUG SPRAY like everyone else, and the night is poisoned. Never mind she married out of high school and faded, little consolation later, when you pick up a tennis racquet (which you spell with a q, which is also wrong) and not like everyone else is what you hear.
You hate these people. Your parents are educated; they have class, and knowledge, and care about analyzing things before making decisions, or believing anything they hear. They are a humiliating joke to your carpool mates, because the Chevy they pick us up in is embarrassingly old. Years later you realize those were classic Chevys you helped Daddy work on, and then you hate yourself, because you were embarrassed too.
You try to make friends, but your mind is freakish, and your eidetic memory for words is freakish (and WordPress has flagged eidetic not because you spelled it wrong, but because it isn’t in their dictionary, and you have to add it), and the fact that you maintain an insect collection is beyond freakish, and apparently the way you carry your backpack isn’t right either, and you can’t say bug spray like everyone else.
Most people make friends in church, or meet dates in church, but you don’t go to church. Everyone knows you don’t go to church. Everyone knows exactly where everyone goes to church. There are even right and wrong Baptist churches to go to. Everyone knew that First Baptist was better than Central Baptist. First Baptist was bigger; more money dropped there into the collection plates. You say it FIRST Baptist and CENTRAL Baptist, emphasis on the first, and the central, because you must declare allegiance, and obviously, the Baptist part doesn’t mean much, since it’s the FIRST and CENTRAL that you lean on. There are maybe 15 Catholics in your whole school and they are viewed tolerantly as different. You are not different, you are other. Everyone knows. You want to belong, but you don’t want to go to church, because apparently it makes you stupid.
You don’t escape. You want to go away to college, but your folks both teach there, and you can get a good education for an insanely small amount of money, so you stay.
You don’t escape. You get into medical school, and you are so very excited. You’re still stuck there, but maybe there will be some forward thinkers, some real intelligent folks with whom you can have an intelligent conversation without having to say bug spray. After all, they’re going to be doctors, right? You don’t escape. Some of the folks who have medical school study prayer group were in your high school, and everyone believes that medical school study prayer group is actually a thing. You were not invited, and you didn’t want to go.
You escape. For a blink. You do your residency in New Orleans, and you fit. Everyone is different. It isn’t the south. It’s other. They have a Mardi Gras ball for people who don’t fit, called MOM’s Ball, which stands for Misfits, Orphans and Misfits, and it’s the best ball ever, because The Radiators play it every year, and you know them, because every time they’re at Tipitina’s, or anywhere else, you’re there with them, getting radiated.
You get a job in Atlanta, which is the biggest small-ass town you’ve ever lived in. The hot chicks just come from families with bigger car dealerships. Anyone who’s anyone knows each other, and I once heard a guy in a Buckhead bar say he couldn’t find beauty in anything bigger than a size 5 dress. You ally yourself with your gay friends, and your black friends, and your pierced and tattooed friends, and hang out in Little Five, and eat at the Vortex, because the White Bread Brigade (your words) are beyond repugnant, and horrid.
And then you spin out. Because you don’t escape. You’ve married, and had a baby, and your folks still live in Alabama, and they’re getting older, and can’t travel much, and so, back you go. For 15 years now, you’ve swallowed bullshit and vomit back in the swamp, and worried when your daughter talks about being an atheist, and she’s only 12 and doesn’t know what that means, and you’re actually not an atheist at all, but you might as well be. And you think that if your daughter says atheist one more time at school that they really will burn a cross on your fucking lawn. And everyone knows she doesn’t go to church.
So now you travel, and people around say, oh yeah, I thought so, I hear some twang, and you want to go in the bathroom and make yourself puke.
And then trump happens.
You’ve spent most of your adult life trying to persuade yourself that these people aren’t that bad, it’s just a different ideology, surely you have more in common than not, and OK, so they don’t know what onomatopoeia means, or where Singapore is, or how to speak any other language, or what an adverb is even. You know this because you accidentally said something in front of someone, who is a nurse, and you thought somehow she’d be smarter, because you still haven’t learned, and you say that you think the trend of naming your kids adverbs, like Heatherly or Amberly, or Fucking Stupidly, and just tacking “ly” on the end, or whatever, is dumb, and she says I have an Amberly, and I don’t even know what an adverb is.
And you said to yourself, I bet she knows I don’t go to FIRST Baptist.
And then trump happens.
And the worst thing ever happens, because you’ve spent your whole damn life getting along with them and telling yourself you won’t hate them because they’re rabid about church, or judgmental, because you’re better than that, and you try to turn that cynicism off, so you’ll be a better person.
And then trump happens.
And you realize your whole damn adult life, you’ve been lying to yourself, and it’s not cynicism if it’s true, and these people really ARE THIS FUCKING HORRIBLE, and you think to yourself, you’re not really sure that JESUS could be better than this, or forgive these money changers and lenders and worshipers of wanton stupidity and hypocrites and JUST GAWDAWFUL inhuman losers.
And then you realize you’ve been speaking to yourself in italics, and referring to yourself in the second person, and these people have no fucking clue what those are either.
And then you think, wow, Mom’s really healthy, and we may be lucky enough to have her for another 20 years, which would be amazing, and then you think Holy Christ, 20 more years.