I spent most of the summer of 2015 hanging out with my friend Tara on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Tara’s husband is in the military and she’d been unimpressed with the location of his assignment and her job in Texas, so she became a member of what she later coined the “runaway wives club,” and moved to St. Simons, where her in-laws live, for the last year of his assignment. She was working as a nurse in the maternity ward at the local hospital night shifts, this worked well for hanging out, as she had free time during the day, and I’d just lost my job unexpectedly, so I did too. St. Simons is a small, transient place, people come and go and it’s a good 75 miles from a city, so jobs are hard to come by. I’d finally found one that I liked and was pretty shocked to lose it about a month later, especially because it was clear the decision was based upon some small town, Southern good ol’ boys club politics. (Get rid of the weird single Yankee girl who’s opinionated, someone here doesn’t like her). While my boss was making up reasons to fire me and stumbling over words, I asked him, “Why don’t you just tell me who it is that doesn’t want me to work here and make this easier?” I already knew the answer, and told him I could see exactly what was happening, but directness in the South can make people uncomfortable, and it was clear my time in this small place was running out-I’m nice-but I’m not afraid to call bullshit when I see it. (FYI-this won’t make you very popular or employable in a small town in the South if you’re already an outsider to the area).
Tara and I met through a mutual friend, bonded over a dysfunctional upbringing and quest for creating much better circumstances than the ones we’d been given, it wasn’t a contest, but she was clearly doing a better job because I was living in a small town in the South where I’d moved for a relationship, had just lost my job, and my ex-boyfriend was sleeping with his new girlfriend, someone I knew who was connected to all the friends I’d made there, basically across the street from my apartment-in the house I used to live in. We weren’t meant to be and there are reasons things don’t work out, but I don’t recommend any of these circumstances for optimal mental health. I’d spend days walking the beach, wondering if I should move back to Massachusetts, a place I felt less connected to and where I’d spent the majority of my life picking up other people’s messes, or keep fighting in a place that had become my version of a living nightmare, where I’d put in an enormous amount of dedication, sacrifice, and commitment in several areas of my life and kept coming up short.
Thankfully, in swooped Tara- fun, energetic, creative and talented, I could tell she’d be a loyal and genuine friend after our first conversation. We’re both a little quirky and different, and don’t quite fit “the mold,” but both prefer it that way. We’d kayak, go to the beach, walk her dog, go running (mostly she’d go running and I’ll lag behind her), then eat pizza. We ate a lot of pizza, and ice cream. And I love cooking and feeding people, so we did a lot of eating in general, we’re both really good at it. Mutual friends joked I’d become her fill-in husband, and they weren’t that far off. Since she’d quickly turned into the “I’ll give you the shirt off my back” type of friend, when my car needed work done, she let me borrow hers while she went out of town to a wedding. I drove her to the airport and when she’d landed in Nashville received this text, “Oh, by the way, I totally forgot, there’s a loaded pistol under the passengers seat of my car, probably not a good idea to drive through the airport with that, can’t believe I forgot to take it out, can you just drop it off at my house at some point?”
Owning guns isn’t really a Southern stereotype. It’s a thing. Almost everyone has one. I’ve gotten over anxiety about a lot of things, but guns and aggressive breeds of dogs off leashes terrify me, both are commonplace in the South. I’m clumsy, sometimes distracted, and envisioned some terrible accident involving tripping and accidentally shooting her dog and becoming the subject of my very own sad country song, (I think almost all country songs involve a gun, a dog, lost love, or someone dying). Our mutual friend, Robert, was at the wedding with Tara too, and knowing how terrified I was to have any association with a loaded gun, started sending me messages, “Oh, I heard you’re packing heat, hahaha.” “STOP,” I replied. I’m not qualified to deal with this situation.” I’d already had near run-ins with both a rattlesnake and an alligator in the South, that was enough.
Thankfully my downstairs neighbor and former co-worker, LB, who’d become a great friend and looked out for me, was around to help diffuse the situation and my anxiety. We were playing on a softball league a few nights a week and carpooled together sometimes. When he asked if I needed a ride later that afternoon to our game that night, I replied: “Sure, but can we leave a little bit early and drop off Tara’s gun at her house? I think I need you to handle it.” This didn’t phase him, so he did. I gingerly handed it over to him like a hot potato and we drove to her house and I showed him where to put it, but made him carry it. I was free!
I know my last year in Georgia served a purpose, to remind me of my strength and courage and resourcefulness, and of all the times I needed support and couldn’t get it from my family so I found it own my own. The lesson wasn’t easy and seemed too painful to bear some days, but it came with the friendship of many kind souls, and a friendship I’m convinced saved me when the pieces of my life were crumbling around me. Watch out, y’all. She’s got my back. And a pistol.