This is the true story of six Midwesterners who decided to rent a house south of the Mason-Dixon and start their 20-something lives in the hills of North Carolina. We are far from our niche in the Chippewa Valley of Wisconsin and have been forced to fend for ourselves, make new connections, build new friendships and, of course, get new jobs. Making the decision to move is exciting and, in those early stages, these are the changes that sound refreshing and adventurous. However, that first day, waking up in a new place, the view from your window can be pretty intimidating.
When you pack up and leave, there are things that you never realized were familiar, and it’s those simple things that leave you empty. We didn’t realize it would take a while to get used to the change. When we moved away, we left behind our local paper, our noon-ball team, our co-workers, our bartenders, our classmates, our grocery store clerks, our bank tellers and our postal workers. We’re starting to adapt. We picked-up employment at the usual venues: schools, restaurants and music stores. Our forecast from “No-neck” Bob Trihy of WQOW has been replaced by a more slender but slightly creepier Greg Fishel. We grab a copy of the Indy each week and we are now finding familiar faces in our everyday activities.
There are also, among a multitude of adjustments, a host of other comforts that have remained constant. Here in Raleigh, as in Wisco, we have street people we know by name and, unbeknownst to them, have quickly been given their own nicknames like “Gravy-Leg,” “Lionel Thundercat” and “Judy.” Both cities house hipsters aplenty, great music venues and great music to go along with it.
We have learned some things from North Carolina, as well. We now know the proper pronunciation of Fuquay, we’ve acquired several acronyms for Cary, and we each have our own spins on the name of local foodmart Harris Teeter. We have tasted the sweet nectar that is Eastern-style barbecue. We are working on our accents and we all secretly hope to be invited to a NASCAR race. We have passed the license test and switched our plates to the “First in Flight.” We’ve conquered the directional maze of I-440 and even experienced the glory that was the “Thrash-a-torium.”
So, let me take a moment to say the following:
Thank you for taking us in and making this an easy transition in our lives. Thank you for your bountiful financial institutions, your barely-there skyline, your wealth of Baptist churches and your oh-so-mild winters. Thank you for providing us with an amazing arts scene and the paper to promote it all. Thanks for the museums, the record stores, the fine Southern cuisine, the parks and the people. We’re happy to be home.
–Heather Anne Williams (on behalf of Everett Avenue)
I parked my car on Franklin Street and walked briskly down the sidewalk. I had to be at work in 10 minutes. Rushing, my head bowed down, my shoulders curled in and my mind full, I barely noticed the man I passed on the sidewalk. Not until I heard his voice behind me, sounding injured and accusatory: “What are you scared of me for? Man, that is messed up!” I stopped and looked back. A black man about my age stood on the sidewalk calling after me. “Why are you white women always scared of me?” Startled, I turned around and began to walk slowly back toward him: “I’m not afraid of you,” I said. “I’m just rushing to work.”
He continued as I approached. “It’s not easy, you know,” he said, waving his hands in frustration. As the distance between us closed, his tone changed. “Why do you white women act scared of me? Just because I’m black, just because I wear these clothes?” He gestured to his loose jeans and T-shirt. “It ain’t right.”
I nodded. “I know,” I said.
I also knew that sometimes, walking down Rosemary Street toward Carrburritos, I felt threatened by groups of black men dressed like him on the street corner. Fear doesn’t know a thing about racism. Fear is a rush of queasiness to the gut, a quickening of breath and pounding of the heart that bypasses the brain altogether. When I feel this way on Rosemary Street, I make a deliberate decision to make eye contact and say hello. But perhaps my fear is evident in the way I set my jaw or my overly broad smile.
Just a few nights before, my husband and I were walking in the mostly black neighborhood behind our house in Carrboro. Walking down one empty street, we saw two black men sitting in a parked car, watching us approach. I raised my hand in greeting, and when I did, they both started, quickly raising their own hands in response. Their exaggerated smiles mirrored my own. “Sometimes my interactions with black men on the streets of this town feel haunted,” I’d said to my husband. We’re each so burdened with the past that it’s hard to behave in an authentic way toward each other. One wrong move of mine can make me look like a racist; one wrong move of theirs can make them look like a predator. My husband, who is from Africa, had shrugged his shoulders. “The legacy of slavery,” he’d said simply.
The man in front of me was still speaking; the words were pouring out of him. “You know, sometimes I may even be agitated … I have my own problems. It doesn’t mean I’m dangerous.” I didn’t know what to say. “You’re right,” I said. “You’re right.” I wished I could think of a better response. But just listening, bearing witness to his truth and my own discomfort, was all I could do. Then he fell silent and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said, looking me in the eye. And we both turned around and went in opposite directions.