Little town Central Georgia still feels so far away from my California roots. I landed here some 17 years ago, dragging myself back to the south for the 3rd time. One might believe I had learned some valuable lessons in claiming roots, but I continued to attempt to flee for years to come. I demanded spousal job searches to any metropolis. I felt I had nothing to offer tiny towns. A foreigner in my own country; too progressive, too loud and certainly not womanly enough for the particulars of the stereotpyed southern gentile.
My first trip south led me to the realization of how incredibly naïve I was about so many things. Upon initial south bound impact, issues of race and ethnicity barreled in my face. My Dad is Latino and grew up in an all African-American foster family. We would attend family reunions with my sister and I -glaringly white. Although I noticed, I assumed everyone found themselves in spaces as the minority. Southbound, the tracks literally divided my university town and I thought perhaps I had been accidentally left on an old movie set. How little did I know and still have to learn. I also knew nothing of fireflies and words like “How’s your Momma and ’em?” I had no concept of consistently looking someone – anyone in the eye, smiling and with kindness, offering salutations. Why did strangers wave in cars as you passed? And southerners know how to make so many different casseroles for (insert event here). The south does forget time in ways that often speed up for others; what a gift to linger just a bit more to hear how a family friend is doing. Perhaps right here is where my perspective created its first true southern offering.
In the Spring of 2007, I gathered up all my collective roots laid in central Georgia and planted them in Gray while becoming my own boss lady. Now a therapist in private practice, from California to a 20k county in Georgia. Writing it today in 2019 still seems nuts. However, I return again and again to one of my many life mantras; ‘the worst thing that could ever happen to you, has already happened.’ Being a trauma survivor offers many strange gifts and I’ve had to learn to tote (see my use of a traditional southern word) them around and wield their wild magic. I’m never less afraid, but better at recognizing being brave without fear is a dangerous recipe for the ego. The years as a therapist boss have allowed for friendships and further commitments grounded in our community. The strange gifts of survivorhood kept urging me towards returning to the soil of southern ground. I lean towards the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ life model, so I needed soil enough for an entire peach grove. I was running full time in 2013, as emotionally well as one could ask for and felt my time for quiet was over. I had shared being a survivor fairly regularly with individuals, but going public was another matter.
I rang up the Sexual Assault Director of the Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia and laid down my proposal. Apparently, to do something like this anywhere outside of tiny towns would be wholly illogical as the sticky red tape would become unbearable. As I blathered away with excitement, I can only imagine what the Director Dottie thought of this wild idea. And still, the organization said yes and away we went with my strange gifts bearing a new love letter to my world.
Instinctively, I also began publishing my stories out loud. It remains a quiet voice amongst the pressure of the great ether, but I continue to offer it as the symbiotic relationship of how soil and southern life give me roots like oak trees. As we have given back year after year, Phoenix Rising continues to unexpectedly change me. Spaces grow where I find myself more fierce while others have forced more dirt to my knees. Our first and favorite course I would run regularly to hold space for its intention.
Once, I literally fell to my knees crying in the grass alongside the road; weeping with joy – with sorrow knowing that what we are doing matters and still wondering if anything I ever do will make any difference at all? Maybe trauma makes us too wild for something as civilized as a path to run with a beginning and end. Perhaps my intentions today are all I can ever hold close; the experiences in my truth – where I allowed the words to seep out of my mouth in places like the Crisis Line. The trauma seemed to have no safe place to fall, but amongst a group of fellow survivors at a rape crisis center, I could finally come home to myself; say the words again and again until they seemed real. Perhaps spoken words are only real because someone else heard them.
Today, the Phoenix has literally been etched in my heart and on my back as a tattoo. And each year, I am overcome with joy and bewilderment at what our community has done. This year we will collectively cross over the $100k mark. Without volunteers, sponsors, organizers, runners and walkers alike, it would just remain a silly dream born out of a girl from Cali. Perhaps it still is, but we will keep writing this love letter together just the same.