Put down roots, they said. As if standing in a place long enough made tentacles out of shoelaces, cementing you to a place wholly different from the place you bought these soles, grew this soul. As if dropping or adopting a lilt in your accent might mean you might could really talk to folks. As if sipping sweet tea were that easy, like it didn’t make your teeth hurt and your stomach turn. Just raise your glass and say I guess this is home now.
The first thing you have to do is walk around a bit, get those shoes dirty, show those eyes this place isn’t a monolith. You have to watch squirrels climb giant oaks and meet a boy from Birmingham who surprises you. You have to wrap your mind around college football and clench your teeth against the strange texture of a boiled peanut. You have to slip off your shoes in the soft beaches of the gulf and burn them, spit the salt out of your mouth too accustomed to fresh water. You have to prick your fingers on a southern pine tree and breathe in the air of the Appalachian foothills. And you have to know, through all the knowing, that you’re still on the surface. That you’ve just begun.
Because once you know every inch of this black dirt and red clay you have to dig into it with your hands. You want this home? You have to earn it. No one is going to give you the tools to make this your place, you have to rip your nails and bleed into it. You have to get angry, for all the ways the surface won’t give. You have to weep when it gives to much, sprains and strains you. You have to examine every speck of earth you claw up and call it the dirt it is.
You have to dig until you find the skeletons you know it keeps, and you have to stare them in the face. You have to greet them as family, know them as well as you know the way the leaves turn that perfect shade of red in the months-long fall. You have to ask all the questions you’re afraid to ask, to really listen to their stories. You want to live here? You’ve got to live with the skeletons the same way you live with the neighbor who blesses your heart with sweet potato pie.
You want to make a home here? You have to use words like our and we and us when you talk about the problems you’re uncovering, the ones your neighbors have been staring down for decades. You have to say we have problems. We have to fight this. We have to do better. It’s our state. Our peace of land, this Dixie, this damned.
You have to bury yourself in it, this grave you dug, these mysteries you’ve uncovered that everyone here doesn’t need to dig up because they’re made of it—this place running through their blood. You have to cover yourself in all the good and bad, have to blend it together, call it one thing. Your thing. This duality.
You have to breathe in the dirt and tears and screams and love and sweetness one last time. You have to hold your breath as your head is covered with the weight of everything you know now, all this dirt, all this beauty.
And then it’s simple, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do: you have to bloom, here, new. Home.