Small Town City Girl
by Hillary Rain
This is a not-so-secret confession:
I thought I was a city girl.
I became one and I hate it.
Hate is a strong word, one I don't care to use much. Here is my typical alternative: what do I greatly *rue and lament?* Living in the city.
Still, after nine years, most of them wishing to be anywhere else, here I am.
(Mom, dad, the irony is not lost on me.)
For years and years I wanted to move here. Prior to actually doing so, this small-town southern girl swooned over the exotic energy of city life—the people, the stories, the creativity, the dining, so much to look at, so much to see. Years of same ol,' same ol'—the sticky summers, blacktop country roads, local molasses drawl and hayfields—made me ripe for something different. Ripe for change. I craved the city. I needed the inspiration of it. I wanted experiences, especially as a writer, that I could embody and distill into words. I wanted to know people outside of a small, country-town world. I wanted more.
You know how there's always another side to the story? I always wondered what mine would be. The city proved to be a crash-course in some of the hardest lessons of my life. Here dwells the best and the worst of human nature, magnified by millions and in many ways, reflected by me. (Sigh.) There's nothing like seeing hunger & haunted eyes from the catwalk to the Seven-Eleven. Or seeing pain on every corner and me feeling oh so small, then being flat-out ignored in big-city boutiques and feeling oh so small(town). Feeling every inch of the tree-lined paths which raised me.
You don't need street smarts in the woods,* but you definitely need it in the days before cell-phones when you make a wrong turn and find yourself on North Lamar, almost out of gas. To survive you need your trusty intuition, hopefully a good friend, and a back-pocket prayer—just like when you are (safely) sitting in an office when the room starts to spin because the depth of manipulation and betrayal is just now hitting you. Confusion comes next, and the months of recovery and wondering if you'll ever trust again.
(It happens in small towns, too. It's the same, really. But different.)
So here it is: what they don't tell small-town girls before they move to the city.
Dear dreamy one with the big blue eyes and love poems for a heart, hi.
I heard you are ready for change. Ready to see what lies beyond the fence and the field, past the Texaco, around the corner and on into the night.
And all the things they're telling you: you should be content, it's dangerous out there, you can't trust anyone, you'll change ... I heard them too. Growing up is hard. A hunger for adventure is hard. Being different is hard. Wondering, wanting, restless, feeling, needing ... life is hard.
I'm not here to repeat the concerns or the warnings from people who love you. We both know they love you, and you love them, and this is not about you being selfish or careless or dismissive. It's about something deep that you cannot explain (yet), and you certainly can't ignore. It's the call of the wild. It's instinctive, blood born, yes, now, more, yes yes yes. It's you knowing, just as sure as you breathe, that if you don't listen, part of you will die.
So this is about you not dying.
This is about you not dying in the safest way possible. Although, for an adventuress, I think safety is a bit overrated. If we were safe about everything we would run out of stories, and what is life without stories? Still, here is what I want you to know.
Expect culture-shock. Give yourself time to adjust. You'll want to do all the things, but first, know this: there is beauty and pain here, just like everywhere, only more of it, and you are not as strong as you think you are. (Good.) With your soft heart it won't be easy, and with your soft heart it won't be easy to stay soft. One more outstretched hand, one more sharpied “Hungry. God bless” sign when you're counting out change for yourself, and you'll crumble because you're torn between helping and surviving and there's never an end to the need for mercy. For them or for you. For sometimes, when you hand over your sandwich (because that's all you have) you'll meet a snarl and a “That's all you got?” And you'll remember when you were little and, day after day, you slipped a fistful of green through the fence to the shy horse in the neighboring field. And that thrill when finally, one sweet day, you felt the black velvet muzzle brush against your hand.
Remember the horses.
Remember the black velvet.
Remember the way you laughed when you ran through the trees in pools of dappled light. Remember how it smelled when you scurried to the top of the sun-warmed pine and sap got stuck in your hair, and your mom pulled out the scissors, shaking her head because that was the only way.
Remember your love poems and your daydreams, your fingers dancing along the cracked keys of the old piano and you: not reading a note, but still making songs.
Remember your softness.
Remember that you have a secret wisdom that people here pay thousands for, sitting on leather couches in perfectly air-conditioned rooms somewhere twenty floors above the city streets. They'll never quite figure you out, and for a long time you'll be reminded that you're different, you're different, you're not from here, are you? And you'll hold this ache right along with the loss of time. Because there's no more time to wander now, explore or daydream, because you're working just to pay rent, working to pay for the electric bill which is three times what you paid for it back home, and at the end of the day you fall into bed hoping to get five hours, maybe six, before doing it all over again.
You might get lost for a little while. You might forget some things. Your softness might age a bit, turn a little grey here and there, become new lines around your eyes. Nothing might turn out like you wished, like you hoped, like you dreamed back then, gazing through the pine at the sky. And yes, you will change.
(Good. Good. Good.)
Because what you need to know is, no matter what?
You are enough.
You are enough, and if you set your heart on Life, life won't lead you wrong.
A wise one said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” His name was Howard Thurman and he also said, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
And another wise one, Hermann Hesse, said: “Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.” Explore everything, my wanderess. But know this: what is real, what is true, what is genuine, what is alive is not “out there.” You bring it with you. You might not see it now, but if you can stay rooted in that place, connected to your vast aliveness, to what is lasting, meaningful and true, then whatever takes you beyond the fence and the field and the Texaco is blessed. Whatever brings you home is blessed. And once you've found home, you've tapped into life's great secret source of joy.
I am being asked to dwell right now. To stay where I am with what I have in a city and apartment I rue and lament. Loving my life as-is. Taking life in my hands and saying, “Yes. I will love you. I will say yes to you. You matter to me. You are meaningful.” Even though I'd give anything right now to hear the whippoorwills at dusk, to sleep with moonlight spilling over me because it's quiet and safe enough to leave the window up at night. One day you might feel the same. So keep a quiet door open in your heart, because you never know. Anything is possible. And right now, impossibly, my heart is saying this: give me a back-country road drive, one so familiar I can (metaphorically, but only if I'm driving. Otherwise, literally) close my eyes and know every curve and hill for miles. I'll roll the window down, let my hair flow wild and free, and sing to the hayfields at the top of my lungs,
“August came on like a love song,
like the way that she does...”
Who knows if they've ever heard Hanged Man by The Mynabirds, but even still, I bet they'd sing right back.
And my God, yes, now, more, yes yes yes.
—Small town city girl
*No, you need woods smarts, like how not to touch that pretty three-leafed plant—“leaflets three, let it be”—and how to carry a big stick to poke around on the path ahead of you for snakes, how to watch for bobcats, coyotes and wild boar, and other such trivialities.