I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. My mother, grandmother, sister, brother, and I lived in a two-hundred-year-old Victorian home my grandmother received as a wedding gift. It was on five acres of farmland. As a little girl, I would climb onto the window sills throughout the house; look at the splendor of the landscape and the occasional passer-by in a horse and buggy. Sometimes I would wake early enough to run to the window that faced the wheat field and watch it being harvested.
When winter approached, my grandmother would prepare the drafty house to trap in as much heat as possible. She would go throughout the house with enormous sheets of plastic and a staple gun, covering the landscape from our view. This not only trapped the heat in, but also made me feel trapped inside our house.
I remember running through the house, climbing onto the window sills that were still naked; I would drink in the landscape one last time before the opaque translucent plastic obscured my vision. When all the windows in the house were finally covered, I felt a melancholic separateness from the world. I would sneakily try to poke holes in the plastic so that I could peep outside at all I was missing.
I am now merely weeks away from graduating from Maryville College with honors. I have done what I set out to do: I wrote an exemplary thesis; I made social change on campus; and ultimately, I survived the embedded racism, queer phobia, and ableism that weakened my resolve and made me feel unwelcome.
When I considered what I would do after graduation, I remember uttering anywhere but here. I applied to many different programs and also considered running away to Los Angeles to resume my acting career. However, anytime I considered New York University, I transported myself to the heart of Manhattan.
When I applied, I had no doubt that I would be accepted. What I didn’t expect was that I would receive a Dean’s scholarship to one of the top thirty schools in the world–a move from the rural south to a major city. A city I love was not only within my reach; it was happening.
I found it interesting that, when I told my mentors, acquaintances, and comrades, some people would interject their opinion about New York. “Oh, don’t forget to take a gun. That place isn’t safe,” or “I hate New York,” or “That place is not my cup of tea, but obviously you will be comfortable there.”
These comments raised questions about what these folks did not like about New York. Could it be the concentration of Black and Brown people in the city? The fact that there are many cultures and ideologies that surpass the religious overtones and plantation politics of the American South? Could it be that the intellectualism on display was intimidating? Was it because they watched news stories and cast judgment, without ever having visited or even ridden on a plane?
I will be matriculating at New York University at the Silver School of Social Work. This is located in the heart of Greenwich Village, where artists, queers, glitterati, and grit merge to make an incredible sociological landscape of organic solidarity. I will be a doorstep away from an accurate depiction of what the world is truly about.
My plan is to become a psychotherapist who centers on marginalized groups and groups that marginalize others. I am here to call people into account, to make the world better, to offer compassion and change through understanding human behavior. What better place to do that than the city that never sleeps?
Human behavior inspires me, frightens me, perplexes and indicts me. I look forward to speaking multiple languages in both spoken and unspoken dialects. I cannot wait to sit in a smokey jazz club and sing a ballad, or to blow off steam while improvising on my flute. Ultimately, I cannot wait to leave East Tennessee for what I feel is a safer and less damagingly insular existence, a place where I can thrive among innumerable iterations of diversity.
To live at Maryville College these last two years was to live in my childhood home with the windows covered. I have felt trapped inside a false reality, a hotbed of white supremacy. I wanted so badly to see different cultures and ideologies, but the opaqueness of the campus culture obscured my vision in an attempt to disabuse me of the belief that diversity–be it sexuality, gender identity, race, or ability level–was some kind of plague on humanity.
Truth be told, I did feel plagued and unwelcome here, simply for existing. I take comfort in knowing that I have poked holes in the storm windows of this school’s institutionally-embedded prejudices, while also being polished to be assertive and direct with my human needs and wants. In this respect, I have been prepared to live my life in a way that rips away the storm windows and allows the draft to tickle my senses.
And now, as I sign off from the Highland Echo for the final time, I hold to my truism to never look back, or to return to a place that obscures my vision or diminishes my existence.