I’m sitting here writing this while my mother bakes a pumpkin cake and my dad is folding clothes and watching the 6 o’clock news. They are grandparents now, and their house (my old house) has become pleasantly cluttered, like many grandparents’ homes do. There are Easter decorations everywhere and a constant delicious smell of my mother’s cooking. My parents are chatting to each other about little things, like an upcoming birthday in the family and how the yard needs to be “cut”. I can hear the news on TV reporting a murder, but it feels like news from a whole other world because this house feels so safe and homey. Every once in awhile, my mom will say to my dad, “Quiet, Darrell, Tori’s tryin’ to write!”
I live in Los Angeles, but I’m visiting my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina for a couple of baby showers. Coming back home is beautiful. I love it here because it’s both predictable and unpredictable: my family and old friends are still the exact same funny, kind, wonderful people they always were, but there’s an element of the unexpected as well. That element is completely effortless, and it comes from last-minute plans that my friends call me with, or just good old “we’ll see where the night takes us.” Motorcycles could come flying out of the woods at me, or I could be riding a mechanical bull by the end of the night (both of which really did happen).
I know that if I go into a bank, the bank teller is going to be a sweet old lady who calls me “honey.” She will expect me to say “yes ma’am; no ma’am” to her. She will most likely give me a piece of candy when I leave. But what I don’t know is that ten minutes later, a friend of mine will call and invite me out, and by the end of the night I am at a weird (but amusing) club with dancing drag queens. This life feels like a movie, and I suddenly feel very young again, very loved, and very safe.
The other thing is that no matter where I go, I run into someone I know. This might sound annoying, but it’s actually nice. Like when I was at Snug Harbor the other night and ran into my good friend Brian. Or when I went to eat with a couple friends last night and the waitress had been a mutual friend of ours. She just plopped herself down and ate with us. Everything becomes a little party.
All of these things—the last-minute plans that turn into great memories; seeing friends everywhere I go; everyone knowing everyone else; a constant stream of fun events to go to, and the secure feeling of understanding the culture of a city—are things that I already knew about but had forgotten, and finding it unexpectedly once again has been a revelation. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as loved and safe. I know better than this, but it feels like nothing bad could really happen here, and there’s a complete lack of pretension. My friends and family here are just Southern people who love each other and like to have a good time, and that means hanging out, having a beer, and going to Waffle House at two in the morning. It means staying with friends so late that you have to sleep over and wake up the next morning to go to Bojangles for breakfast. It’s the kind of place where everyone mows their lawn on Sunday afternoons, children are raised with manners, where women still fawn over antique dishes, where my father smiles at me every time he sees me, and where my mother gets excited to cook dinner for me. (And when I eat my mother’s food, it feels like I am a child again. I’m convinced it’s the most delicious food in the world.)
It probably sounds like I’m romanticizing North Carolina because it’s the place of my childhood. Maybe I am, and maybe it’s only a wonderful place to me because I know how everything works here. Last night, I saw a guy peeing right in the parking lot, and as redneck as that is, I had to smile. I’m home!