I take her everywhere I go.
This six-word statement could be in reference to many a thing in my life. Monica, my regal teal backpack, is rarely seen off of my shoulders. My phone/wallet/keys combo pack, collectively and affectionately known as Brandy, must stay within eyeshot or they're gone forever. These are undoubtedly important tangible things, but neither can compare to the "her" that I couldn't kick if I tried.
Atlanta. That's my "her." And, heavens, is she gorgeous.
In September 2005, I was 18 and nervous when I boarded a plane to Hanover, N.H., to begin my life of not living in Atlanta. Before I left, especially in those final months when I knew the end was coming, I couldn't stop thinking about the reality that would be losing my city pride. Come 2006, would I start cheering for other teams? Were my days of acting completely ignorant upon hearing the first note of Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz's Crunk Juice coming to an end? What was I going to do with all of this '96 Olympics gear? Should I leave the David Justice poster at home? These were the questions that I couldn't stop thinking about, because my assumption was that you were your loudest and proudest at home and nowhere else.
I love that 18-year-olds don't know anything, because my assumption couldn't have been more wrong. Just two weeks into my freshman year of college and, partially due to a name that no one could pronounce, I was known as that skinny black freshman from Atlanta. FROM ATLANTA. I did it. I couldn't have been more pleased, especially because I was simply being myself: unabashedly ATL.
After four years in the woods of New Hampshire, it was again decision time and, despite my love for home, I barely entertained the idea of moving back. I knew I was moving to New York City — and actually moved to New York City months before I figured out how I'd afford to survive in New York City. Now in my "junior year" as a Manhattan resident, I've seen my approach to being from Atlanta mirror my college days. The amount of Atlanta-related clothes and mementos I've obtained over my three years here could be clinically described as a "problem," but the excitement I feel upon seeing (and ultimately purchasing) a Coca-Cola bumper sticker or a Freaknik T-shirt beyond the Perimeter shows me that my obsession with home is only growing stronger as the years apart increase.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is a phrase that very old people say. Let me be the first to suggest that these old people are very correct, and then tweak it with regards to Atlanta and state, "Leaving makes the heart grow crunker."
I saw this ring true in a few of my "probably never leaving Atlanta ever" comrades two weeks ago, as 15 of us, the majority of whom are Paideia School graduates, rendezvoused in Las Vegas for a bachelor party. As a veteran of this by now, I was excited to go to yet another city and flaunt my inner and outer ATLien, but my real excitement came from watching the current Atlanta residents be brash and unruly and "in-your-face" about where they're from. The act of a blackjack dealer asking for IDs and watching her examine a stack of Georgia Driver's Licenses was fun for me, but was vocally a thing of beauty for a few them. "Yeah, I'm from Atlanta, WHAT OF IT?" was uttered completely unnecessarily more than a few times that weekend, but at the time it seemed completely necessary. Looking back on it, oddly enough, it was.
The day I move back to Atlanta will be a beautiful moment, but also one filled with sadness because there is really nothing like repping from afar. Sure you're not in the middle of all the action, sure the losses hurt less and the wins aren't as joyous, and sure you might pick a city where someone within arms reach is always screaming "GO GIANTS," but the act of holding on to the place that molded you, loudly, while in foreign waters, is quite special. The joy I get from walking around Manhattan and watching confused Yankee eyes meet a '91 Braves World Series sweatshirt is astronomical. The almost-level of celebrity that one receives when an OutKast/Ludacris/T.I. track plays in a bar, sparking an almost ritualistic Atlanta dance and lyrical cipher, is amazing and deserved. Most importantly, the fact that uttering the phrase "I'm from Atlanta" to someone not from Atlanta, in a city that's not Atlanta, is always followed by a series of genuinely curious (and sometimes dumb) questions will never get old.
Yes, these acts and the emotions they elicit can take place in one's home, but the experience of living this ex-pat, unofficial city representative life is something I wouldn't trade for the world. Not right now.
I'm coming back. I have to. That's how the story has to end. My girl Atlanta is bound to grow tired of me lugging her around everywhere. Who knows when that'll be, but it will happen and then I'll run for mayor and then I'll win and then I'll name my three kids Vick, Varsity, and Charles "Mookie," and then I'll live in the same neighborhood as the 15 guys I lost all of my money with in Vegas. Because that's how our story ends, me and her. It just has to.