Most of my life I felt out of place in the south: too big for it, too loud. When I finally decided it was time to leave the security blanket with a million holes in it that North Carolina was for me, I stood on the edge of my driveway listening to country music until 4 in the morning every night. I don’t think anyone had ever made me feel shame for my love of country music and I’m glad they didn’t.
Years later after I’d left the state, a music critic reviewing my band It Was Romance’s first record would tell me I sounded like “an old-time country crooner signed up for a rock band” and I would be so flattered to be seen so clearly. As hard as I tried to fight it, the state had become just as much a part of me as it was too small to hold me.
Still, leaving the simplicity of that driveway would take all the courage I had. One of the songs I sang most often before I left was Patty Griffin’s “Rowing Song.” The sweet hopefulness of her voice while she described all of the complicated feelings I had about the south and about leaving, all of the fear, all of the “so out of range” dreams I had and the loneliness I felt–there and everywhere I’d ever been–poured out of my lungs like a cough when I sang along with Patty like she was a neighbor next door. “Just have to go, go, go, where I don’t know,” felt like me blindly booking a room in what I’d later find out was a rat-filled NYC apartment where 60 people lived and pretended it was like living in Rent, so that made it less creepy. It didn’t.
I knew New York City was where I was meant to be, but I also knew I didn’t really want to go. I just had to; a summons from someone I couldn’t identify. The only thing that comforted me before that leap into the middle of the black ocean that was New York–where people seemingly either became homeless and murdered or rich and crazy–were Patty’s closing words: “And I’m alone, all of the way, all of the way, alone and alive.” A melancholy reassurance that yes, I’d still be alone the whole time, as I’d always been, but I’d be moving towards the person I’d become, alone and alive.