I remember driving down I-40 in the absolute dark, in the new moon night, and wondering if the mountains I’d been hearing about were there, around me in the dark. That was a year ago and was, in its own right, the beginning of everything that has happened since.
As it happens, I was driving right toward the Blue Ridge, although that particular drive would take me no farther than the foothills.
It was my second encounter with the state. The first was a rainy drive from Myrtle Beach to Chapel Hill in which we all smelled like rancid ocean and my eyes were opened only intermittently. Looking backward, I know that we must have passed through Hickory, but I don’t remember much outside of rain soaked trees and trying to stay awake.
There was no way to know that I would be here again and again, that I would grow to know these highways. There was no way to know, that first summer in the rain or that first spring in the darkness, how unexpected the next steps in the story would be.
I am here, the girl who loves the city, flitting to trailer parks on a hillside and learning to pronounce the small-town streets with unfamiliar cadences. I am here, in a place I never imagined I would be and in a way which I did not expect.
I am here, and I am so very grateful.
It comes to me in waves, when the sun pulls out the new green in the trees and when the water soaks everything and I pull to the roadside to take a picture, struck by the beauty of the light through the haze. It comes to me as she is here with her new fiancé, standing on the balcony and watching the seed pods helicopter and worrying that I will step on the broken glass.
It is a new season for both of us, a season that is right. We look back now, and we can laugh. Not with nonchalance, but in a way that is all joy and relief and the gratitude that spring has come to North Carolina.
She will visit and go again, him walking ahead of her and looking back with a softness in his eyes that makes me glad. They will come again, I think, maybe for a while, maybe with the others, because this is the place I will be. These are the moments I am going to inhabit, going forward, and these are the places you will find me.
You will find me in the stillness of the prayers on Sunday morning, feeling the presence of those I know around me and understanding that this is another place I will come back to, again. This is a place I will stay, a place in which I am, astonishingly, a part, lately.
You will find me on those highways, in the rain and the sunshine and the very dark night-times. You will find me laughing too loudly, like I never lost that light, and you will find me very tired in the evenings. You will find that I have found the whole spectrum of the thing, the joy and the frustration and the anger and the sadness, and you will find that I am not, in this instant, so afraid.
There was no way to know how grateful I would be, a year after that dark drive, to see the sun come up behind the Blue Ridge and laugh that there are mountains beyond mountains. There was no way to know that this little place would come in the fullness of time, that these people would be here, that it would all come to me, singing along with the ninth symphony, the Ode to Joy.
This is the last I will write you, I am thinking, but I wanted to say it because it has been a completion, has been the last miles of a very long drive and the collapsing inside the door and catching my breath. It has been a beautiful concession.
These are the places you will find me, in the same way I happened upon myself.