West Virginia, I Don’t Know

I’m at my parents’ house in West Virginia, for the better part of a week. And while I’m thrilled to be back in the mountains surrounded by multi-colored trees and people who knew me when I was 6, I am so so glad, that Pocahontas County is not my home anymore.

A few words on home. When people ask me where I am “from,” I still say “West Virginia.” The conversation becomes a little more complicated when I explain where I lived before I went to Colorado (Ohio), influential places in my life (Kentucky, Chicago, Virginia). I still refer to West Virginia as “home,” even though as an adult, “home” is now a three-bedroom rental that I share with two adult men, a cat and a miniature pinscher. At the end of a long day, I want to go to my home that has the bed I bought from Craigslist and my entire nail polish collection, not the one where I had sleepovers in high school and suited up on snowy mornings to give hay to shaggy horses.

My relationship with West Virginia, to put it in Facebook terms, is “it’s complicated.” I love that I am from Appalachia, I love the natural beauty, the history, the culture and the people. I loved living in Eastern Kentucky and growing up in the country, and all of the trappings it entailed. I would be a hell of a lot less interesting had I grown up in Northern Virginia or Southern California. Pocahontas County will always be a place that I care about, and continues to be a place where I want to spend a lot of my time.

But boy, is it work. I can envision the life I would lead if I lived in Pocahontas County. It would be nice, I think. I would work at a non-profit, maybe substitute teach, volunteer at the artists’ co-op, selling quilted things. I’d go to church with my dad on Sundays, be in an old time band, date Americorps volunteers or people who graduated from high school 5-7 years before me. I’d be 5-10 pounds heavier, and a social smoker. I’d have awesome friends and feel good about living in my hometown/county. That part is nice. But what isn’t nice, would be the constant writing of letters to the editor, political crusades, trying to enact social change, fighting to get the same people who knew me at 5 to respect me as an adult 20 years later. I have friends who have done this in their hometowns, and have made the struggle worthwhile for them. But I don’t have a lot of grit. I’d constantly wonder what I was missing out on.

I really respect the people who have seen the world and decided that they really want to live in their home towns. Anyone who is from Appalachia, and wants to stay in Appalachia, should by all means, do it. There is a lot of potential in this region, if you are willing to work hard. But I’m not right now. When my friends tell me about their plans to move back to West Virginia and start something amazing, I get really excited for them. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and admire their energy and dedication. When they ask me to move back with them and help them run it, I have a mental panic attack.

As much as I love Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and this entire region, the thought of living here right now makes me feel like I’m breaking out in hives. We want, no, need, young people to stay in Appalachia. But the region does not need people there who don’t want to be here, and feel guilted into staying. At this point in my life, I would be in the latter category.

West Virginia, I don’t know. I love you and care about you so much, but the more distance I’ve had, the better I’ve been feeling about living elsewhere for awhile. Maybe we’ll sort out our differences and I will return, and maybe we won’t. For now, it’s good to be home.

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