Goodness this post is hard to write. It drums up the same feelings similar to that of explaining to an ex why you had to let them go. One of my favorite quotes that I stumbled on a few years back read: “There is nothing more heartbreaking than when two people can’t make it work because life gets in the way.” That same quote adequately defines my relationship with West Virginia.
Let me preface by saying that this post is in no way meant to offend anyone in my home state. This is based solely on my own experience of growing up and eventually leaving West Virginia.
Let’s set the stage. Picture a small town in northern West Virginia called Barrackville. There are no stoplights and it’s home to one dairy mart, a K-8 school, and a baseball field. There isn’t much more than the great people that live there, and they color that town with southern hospitality and good spirits. I could not have asked for a better town to have grown up in.
I remember being a small girl and racing home after school to go play. And by play I mean I would go lay in the field behind my house and let my imagination run rapid. I took with me to that field the same thing nearly every time: pen, paper, and my parent’s constant reminder of “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up… The only person that will ever hold you back from that is yourself.”
I’d always walk to the same shaded spot near the woods and lay down. I would close my eyes and pretend to be in a big city, absorbed by chaos and lost in a sea of people. I’d then spend another chunk of time after that writing about what I just imagined, trying to translate my daydreams into some sort of ambition.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (and I still don’t I guess). All I knew was that I wanted to go see everything and reach my absolute potential. This field is where I first realized my young adult future wasn’t going to be spent in West Virginia.
It wasn’t long after, until I learned the idea of leaving the state wasn’t just unique to me. Even at that age, I feared people would look at my eagerness to leave as betrayal and so when I heard my friends say they wanted to leave West Virginia too, I was nothing short of relieved to know I wasn’t alone in the feeling. But as we got older, things changed.
I started to notice the shift in college. Most of us stayed in state to further our education, because nearly all of us were afforded the opportunity of the Promise Scholarship (a student scholarship that funds our undergraduate careers if we earned our Bachelor’s in state). This scholarship kept me and so many of my peers in West Virginia longer. Please know just how thankful I am for this scholarship and for my four amazing years at West Virginia University. I was given so much by my home state and that University and I am forever indebted to them both.
But as we progressed towards graduation and future plans were beginning to be shared, I began to note that so many of my friends’ will to leave the state had dissolved for various reasons. The idea of leaving began to become a thing of the past. Hell, it even almost became one for me. And just as I started to accept the idea of staying in state post graduation, 12-year-old Shae tugged at my heart and reminded me that my once daydreams could become a reality. So I kept letting my dreams fuel the fire for an adventure outside of the state lines of West Virginia (yes we are our own state – google it).
I started to share that I still planned on leaving come May 2013. I told the girls I worked with, my friends from middle school, and anyone who would listen really.And then I took the leap.
I left West Virginia because I never wanted to wonder what if. I left because although it was safe, I wasn’t growing there any more. I left because my dreams were bigger than my small town. I left because I felt God calling me elsewhere. I left because I wanted to find my limits and challenge myself. I left because I wanted to open my mind to new cultures and ways of life. I left because I wanted to fall in love with myself and new people. I left for other career opportunities.I left because of what my parents said long ago: The only person who will ever hold my back is myself. I couldn’t stand in my own way any longer.
However, having been gone three years, I have fought an undeniable feeling of guilt. Leaving feels wrong. How could I leave a place I love so damn much? Was I betraying the place I love so much?
No. In all reality, it’s quite the opposite.
West Virginia gave me an irreplaceable youth rich in humidity, laughter, faith, adventure, mountains, family, barefeet, good food, and sweet tea. That same youth is what makes me who I am today. In fact, I carry West Virginia with me everywhere (and I mean that other than being a overly prideful mountain mama).
Roots: the part of a plant that attaches to the ground or to a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant via numerous branches and fibers.
West Virginia is my roots. My experiences growing up there keep me grounded. It is my support. My West Virginia friends and family are my water, my nourishment. They supply me with the energy, confidence, and courage to extend my branches further than I thought was possible (oh I don’t know to places such as Haiti for example).
West Virginia is a part of everything I do. It is who I am and who I will always be. And no matter where my branches extend, I’ll always be rooted in West Virginia soil.
Forever a Mountain Mama,