I’ve been back home in Georgia for the past week for the holidays. I don’t get to make it home much–it’s a long way and work is pretty steady for sixteen weeks straight every semester, so I try to get home during my big breaks for some time with the folks and with my home state. I’ll never question my motives for leaving Georgia–they were pure and still rewarding. But when I’m here, I feel it. I dated a girl once who said she couldn’t imagine me leaving Georgia. “You are Georgia,” she said. Maybe there is something to that, but I definitely did leave. So there.
I was outside today. It’s been warm but rainy all week, and it was finally dry enough for long enough for me to get a run in on actual road instead of treadmill, aka Yawnsville. My move at the end of a run, though, is to put my hands on my hips, breathe deeply, and look up into the sky (which is infinitely more rewarding than looking up at the ceiling when I run on the treadmill). It was covered by clouds, sure, but there it was–the Georgia sky.
I grew up there–under the Georgia sky–little legs and arms running through the grass in a yard fenced in by wood. The sky watched me grow, as it does everyone, changing its color with and against our moods like a sometimes-functioning-sometimes-broken mood ring. I don’t know if I ever really noticed it as a child, but in my memory, I was always aware of it–mostly blue and blotted by clouds.
When I ran through the forest around my house, yelling and screaming and being a young boy with the other young boys in the neighborhood also yelling and screaming, it was there watching over me–a giant blue god. But this god of my childhood wasn’t good at protecting me. It saw me flip over my bicycle handlebars when I ran over a rock because I thought it was a rotten apple, when I cut my fingers on a box-cutter taking down a backyard wrestling ring, when I slammed my thumb in the door of my parents’ station wagon. It watched my heart break on the hill near the high school when a girl I liked told me she wasn’t interested.
The Georgia sky smiled when it saw me walk across stages in colored gowns and flat hats, when I got my first job, when I lost one hundred pounds, and when I started my novel.
Underneath that vast blueness, though, I drove up paved arteries, back home, to see my father plugged into many machines, his heart trying to finish him. The sky watched me walk with him during his recovery, up and down the street where I grew up, my mother watching from the window.
You might say there’s no value to looking back, but I’m not me without the things that happened under that sky.
I know, logically, that sky is sky–North Carolina sky is no different from Georgia sky. But emotionally, I’m not so sure. There is something familiar about the way these trees frame it up that isn’t quite there in North Carolina. Things that are the same look different to us in different places, maybe. Not better or worse–just different. I did a lot of growing and learning underneath the Georgia sky. I spent 28 years committing its hue to memory.
Of course I still have growing and learning to do. And one day, I’ll look back on it all and write some dumb and nostalgic blog post about how it happened under the watchful gaze of North Carolina’s sky.