YOU WILL ALWAYS BE FROM ALABAMA
by LEE GAINES (United States)
Issue 2.2 August 2020
you are from the South. the South has taught you many things.
you have learned the seasons are “hot” and “not” and there is no logic to them.
you have learned the sky in July glows electric blue, the sun burns white-hot, and you get dizzy if you stay out too long.
you have learned mosquitos are not to be messed with.
you have learned the mosquito hawks that eat the mosquitos are your best friend, and you have learned not to be afraid of them.
you have learned blueberries straight from the bush are juiciest, jalapenos from the back garden are the hottest, and corn grown yards from where you eat is the sweetest.
you have learned there is both good and bad about where you live.
you have learned the stubbornest people on the planet are Southern.
you have learned “Southern Hospitality” only goes so far.
you have learned you cannot escape your birthright.
you have learned, in the South, you cannot change. you are stagnant, like the stiff air in the middle of June.
you will always be your father’s little girl.
you will always be the one “who doesn’t like girly stuff.”
you will lie and dodge questions about why you don’t come to Girl Scout meetings. you and your mother will butt heads about your desire to quit. Eventually, this will taper off, but only because you stop asking.
you will worry your relatives when you cut your hair, they will tell you they are relieved you did not shave the side of your head. you will not tell them you wanted to.
your Catholic great-grandmother will ask you why you don’t have a boyfriend yet, you’re so beautiful. you will laugh with her awkwardly as she slaps you on the back.
you will stutter through thank-yous when your great-uncles and aunts call you “beautiful girl” and “young lady.” every pronoun will feel like a drop of cold water on your face. there will be so many, you will pray you don’t drown.
you will feel like your family is just trying to humour you at thanksgiving and christmas breakfasts when they ask how you are doing in school, and you will stumble through a conversation you don’t feel worthy of. you will watch other people talk, easy and languid. you will feel jealous and grateful at the same time. you will wish you felt that connected, and thank your stars you are not.
you will hate the bridal showers and baby showers you are forced to go to but your father can escape from. you will stick to him like a cowed dog when he does attend one. weddings will make you feel sick.
you will be told not to be selfish when you hide to find a moment of peace.
you will hate seeing the pictures your relatives keep of you when you were younger. you won’t recognise the person staring back at you. you will avoid them, head tucked down.
you will dread easter gatherings. you will panic when on the rare occasion you have to go to Mass. your single act of religious rebellion will be to burn a candle for your dead great-aunt and pray that the earth brings her spirit peace.
you will wonder how much your mom’s sister knows when she hands you the Pride edition of Entertainment. you will thank her profusely anyway, and add it to your hidden but prized collection of queer literature.
you won’t know what to do with the makeup she gives you. you will wear it one way and feel fake, another and feel electrified. you will wash it off and turn out the lights, hiding from your reflection.
you will wish you could accept the keys your grandfather offers you to his SUV when he notices you’re melting into the walls at a cousin’s birthday party filled with people you’ve never seen before. you wish you were allowed to drive, just to find an escape.
you will hold your breath as your grandmother thumbs through a literary magazine you have used a new name in, and you will cringe when she asks who that is, why it isn’t spelled like a girl’s name.
you will breathe a sigh of relief when no one else questions it. you will be shocked when some occasionally use it. you will wonder what they think of it, for days upon days. you wonder what they would say if you came out.
you will gravitate silently towards the family members who feel safest: the ones who see you as your age, the ones who treat you as an equal, the ones who seem to know things. you stay near the gay cousins or the ones from exotic places like Miami, or New York, or anywhere but here.
anywhere but here.
you cannot escape the South.
you may leave it, but it never leaves you.
you will always be from Alabama.
it will catch in your skin, your bones, deep in the pits of your stomach.
it will show in your tolerance of humidity and your intolerance of cold.
it will slip out in words like “cotton” and the “y’all” you can’t manage to get rid of.
it will be with you in what you know, how much you know, your memories of your home.
it will welcome you with sticky arms when you return.
you will feel like “country coming to town” whenever you leave it. you will feel very much like a fish out of water when you talk to a cute girl from Utah, compliment another from Washington on her writing. you will hope neither of them notice how anxious you are, the shakiness of your eyeliner.
“Alabama” will always sound like a curse, a judgement heavy on your shoulders like a yoke and you cannot run from the metal plow or what you carve in the earth behind you.
you will feel like resistance is futile. you will wish you were normal, that you don’t want to change, that you even knew how to articulate how you want to change, or how to explain that it’s less a change and more a peeling back of an old shell that doesn’t fit anymore. you will wish it felt like home.
you try to keep that spark of hope alive in your chest, the hope you can escape and change,
because one day, it will ignite you and your old self will burn and burn and burn. you will be reborn from ash.
you fear it, but it still dances in your daydreams, and you laugh.
one day, you will escape.
one day, you will peel back your old shell.
one day, you will be as bright and hot as that Alabama summer sun.
one day, you will be free.
Lee Gaines, 17, is a poet and writer from Alabama, where they have lived their entire life. Their work has been published elsewhere in Graphophobia and the Blue Marble Review, and has been recognized by the Alabama Writer's Forum and the National PTSA Reflections program. They hope you're having a good day.