Friday, April 3, 2015

Sunburnt Feet & Frostbitten Toes

Barring four years in high school, I spent most of my childhood down south. However, I'm a Yankee, of some sort, by constitution. I tend toward writhing glances versus the spoken word, unsweet tea or, even worse, hot tea instead of sweet tea ya'll, and reading books, not the bible, in coffee shops. It's not just the heat that stifles.

Lured onto the church bus by promises of candy and prizes, my mom rightly let me figure out for myself that my butt on a foldout chair or planted on a wooden bench were the real prize. My fascination with droning fans probably began at a three hour bible study I demanded to attend. By age nine, I started declining bus rides to bible study even though it cost me a few friends. 

I wanted to fit in, but an uptight bookworm with a misguided sense of equality and a modulated Midwestern cadence is not easily accommodated. I liked all the wrong things- anoraks instead of polos, funky shoes instead of flipflops, and the occult held more appeal than the Southern Baptist church.

"Do you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior," a young man queried me in earnest before having the gumption to ask for a date. "Personal? No. No, I don't," I replied. "Well then, there's nothing more for us to talk about," he said. Open and shut, black and white, and the world of gray, Protestant, dismissed in the blink of an eye. The heat of my car welcomed me as the feeling of having just missed a death knell to my spirit washed over me. 

Still, nearly every woman I knew or knew of, got married around this time. I began to get comfortable with the idea of being single forever even if it did feel like a case of leprosy. I counseled myself that Christ ate with the lepers. 

Then there was the time a neighbor threatened that something might happen to my house because my roommate dated a black man. "Some people frown on that sort of thing around here," she said. I shrugged at her comments. There was not much that could be said to the neighbor though she did tell me it wasn't her that I needed to worry about but those other people. "Other people?" I asked. We left the middle of the road by the mailboxes in a stalemate. I didn't act as frightened as she intimated I should be. I opted not to mention it to my roommate, it was the little thing I could do to stop the insanity from spreading. 

The stifling window of how a woman may conduct herself, what interests are deemed appropriate, and my own inability to fit the southern girl mold with aplomb sent me in search of alternatives.

Now, I visit the Redneck Riviera, admire the fit and not so fit ladies, and linger over the long drawls, noting the ways I never could quite catch. I eat grouper, greens, and grits. The handbags bursts with color. The beer is mass produced. I drink a cocktail, walk in the sugar sand, and I am grateful for staying true to some parts of myself. There's still plenty more lost causes filed away in my drawer of truths to reckon with someday, but for now, I'm glad to be heading north with both sunburnt feet and frostbitten toes.

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