Growing up within the flowery walls of Vestavia Hills, I was lost in a strange suburbia land and very much removed from the bright lights of downtown Birmingham. I remember as I neared high school graduation, I had the nagging feeling that I needed to flee the state. For me, this place symbolized synthetic beauty queens and preppy football kings. In the mirror, I saw nothing more than a frizzy-haired, converse-wearing teen that sulked in the back bleacher at pep rallys. This is not to say I didn’t receive a good education and I’m so thankful for my parents’ decision to put me in the school system. But as an awkward teen searching for an identity beyond my mushroom mop, I just could never find it in the stiff, hair-sprayed Vestavia bubble.
After spending my college years in South Carolina and another volunteer year in New Orleans, I landed right back in my parents’ basement, once again a suburbian but this time with a little more life experience. Working two minimum wage jobs didn’t exactly bolster a strong foundation of self-worth, but I now know that is was simply part of the process of highs and lows that happen on all of our journeys to somewhere.
As August creeps closer and closer on the calendar, I recognize that it’s time to decide where I will live while proudly clenching that Master’s degree and hoping someone sees me as a useful little worker bee. For the longest time, I pushed Birmingham away, vowing I wouldn’t stay here and that the city couldn’t offer me whatever I needed to attain fulfillment.
But now I’m starting to see the city itself has more to offer than my angsty teenage self once thought. Restauarants and businessses are sprouting up like fresh flowers in the springtime. The food trucks are rolling and big names in music seem to be shuffling through the streets at a steady pace. This past Wednesday marked the opening game of the Birmingham Barons in their new downtown megastructure. As I decide if I want to stay, I feel the tug of the Magic City strengthen its grip on me.
There is something special about the South. You can feel it in the thick, humid air that soaks your face, hear it in the sweet sounds of chords plucked on an acoustic guitar, and taste it in the melty hot BBQ. You can also read it in the words written by authors who have made a home here and see the good, the bad and the real. I would love to be known as a “southern writer.” To me, it is an honor that speaks more than any fancy award ever could. So as I slowly lay the bricks of my future, one small rectangle at a time, I think I see Vulcan raising his torch a little higher for me.