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  • When consoling friends about their relationship endings, I often say: "Sweetheart, breakups are never an event. Breakups are a process."

    And as it turned out, it took many, many years and many attempts for me to quit my city.

    Someone once told me that Memphis, Tennessee, is like a beat up sofa you get at a secondhand store. It's old-fashioned. A bit funky. The stuffing is coming out at the corners, the legs are scratched to hell and back, but the price is right. And that sofa is really comfortable. And once you sit down, lean back and settle in it's goddamn hard to get out of it. You’re stuck.

    And that my friends, is God's truth.

    You understand, sticky is part and parcel of the South. The humid, everlasting summers are sticky. The past tends to stick around. Your people stick with you and by you. Your mouth gets set on the taste of pimento cheese at church potluck suppers. You’re drenched in honeysuckle and the familiar softened cadences of everyday conversations, punctuated with hon, m’am and sir. The kudzu vine that climbs along the highways and engulfs everything in its path is a reminder of just how hard it is to break away.

    So I had to put a lot of effort into the delicate savagery of unsticking. I got up off the sofa, sold out of my business and my house, and took up with a company in the Bay Area. There was a going away party. I stored things, gave away things, and moved the rest, including Rhoda and Fergus, the cats. I was ready – cleansed and ready.

    But you know you are a true Southern girl when your mother insists you have a lady chaperone on your cross-country drive from Tennessee to California: Miss Sarah Gay. Sarah Gay is one of my mother’s dearest friends. Sarah Gay’s mom had taught me in Sunday school. Sarah Gay’s dad taught me how to spit on cars from overpasses.

    Mom contacted Sarah Gay without consulting me and made the arrangements. For I was to be delivered to San Francisco safely and chastely by a 70-year old retired high-school Latin teacher.

    Sarah Gay arrived with a small, plastic overnight case containing travel-proof, wrinkle-free separates and nylon nightgowns and a plastic Kroger sack of peanut butter crackers. In truth I was glad to see her because I had been dreading the trip. It loomed like a chapter in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book - four days of hot, relentlessly hot cross-country driving with your house animals and your provisions. No one for company save the people in your wagon. Each night we parked the car, wrangled the cats into a hotel room, tethered, fed and watered them and escaped to find margaritas and wipe the tears that come from being dry eyed from too much highway glare.

    It turned out to be an adventure of the small sort and Sarah Gay was a delightful travel companion. She dutifully delivered me to my new front door and gave a California benediction in Latin:

    “Patria est, ubicumque est bene.”
    Wherever we are content; that is our country.

    I currently deeply delight living here. As eagerly as I slipped the surly bonds of the South I slipped into the embrace of the Bay Area: the luxuriousness of the nectarines and the gold late-afternoon hours. The boom bust-iness of the tech scene. How familiarly gritty my new town of Oakland is.

    The smell of bay laurel.

    Yet, here is where I’ve also discovered heartache is missing something you never thought you would miss or have to miss. The leaving has ended. The missing has commenced. And stuck.

    Strange how I never even once considered the twain should meet.

    The Southern writer Willie Morris says: “The South is a blend of the relentless and the abiding for me, an accumulation of ironies so acute and impenetrable that my vagabond heart palpitates to make sense of them.”

    And that my friends, is God’s own truth.

    Image credit: Thomas Hoving via Flickr under the Creative Commons License.
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