When I first moved to North Carolina at the age of 6, I was sure I had moved to the armpit of the United States. I had moved from Dallas, Texas, and I behaved with supreme condescension. I wasn't really a local, I'd say; I was actually a ballerina from a huge city. All of these oak and pine trees were making me breathe too much, too.
I first started falling in love with North Carolina during the summer my family spent with my aunt as we hunted for a new house. She lived on a lake, and that summer, so did I. Running around her tree-covered yard in my jelly shoes, jumping off the dock into the lake, lying in the hammock and just staring up into the trees: Never had I been so surrounded by nature, so far removed from the small, artificial trees awkwardly planted within the Dallas concrete.
I soon started elementary school in Charlotte. My friends and I pulled honeysuckle from the fence during recess, sucking at the sweet liquid drops, and we'd play tag among the gargantuan trees on our playground. With every caterpillar I brought home as a pet, I could feel my superiority complex ceding. At least I still refused to say "y'all."
But I drank sweet tea like it was water, and I learned of the glory of Bojangles' biscuits. I studied North Carolina's history as one of the 13 Colonies, and I felt pride knowing that we were one of the originals. The Alamo was starting to slip away.
After an education in the performing arts at a magnet high school, I decided to seek a more customary collegiate education, so I chose N.C. State. It was in Raleigh that I finally fell completely for the Tar Heel State. In stark contrast to my high school friends who wished to perform in New York and Los Angeles, the students of N.C. State wanted nothing more than to live in the state they loved. It was infectious: I spent school breaks with friends on road trips to the beaches of Wilmington, windows down, with country music blaring. I participated in every tradition possible, wearing white dresses at football tailgates and dancing sunburnt in a field at the Triangle Beach Music Festival. When it snowed an inch, I responded with requisite panic. I went four-wheeling, and I tried the grits at The Flying Biscuit. When the bars played "Wagon Wheel," I knew I needed to sing the line "If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free" with added gusto.
It wasn't until my education started drawing to a close that I realized how much I would miss what I now consider my home state, since I'm planning on moving up to New York City at the end of the summer. How will it feel to be surrounded by a landscape of skyscrapers and crowded parks after so many years surrounded by tall pines? What happens when I'm the only one stunned by a dust of snow? No sweet tea, no biscuits, no 70-degree February weather?
I plan to live it up Southern-style for the duration of the summer, though. Afterward, when people ask where I'm from, I know what my response will be; maybe a return to North Carolina is even in my future. But I'll still refuse to say "y'all."