I was sitting on the top of my dad’s four door beige-tan Honda, eating watermelon down to the rind with my cousin only two weeks older than me, and I told him that maybe I’m just not a patriotic person. I was probably under ten, and sitting in the middle of cars and pull-out lawn chairs next to the Oak Ridge civic center in East Tennessee, I felt a sense of misunderstanding akin to alien, out-of-place, though I had the appearance of fitting in—blonde-hair, blue-eyed, skinny, bruises and mosquito bumps counting over 30, whoever had the most won. Whoever had the most had the best summer, had the most adventures in rivers and mud and mountain water, had the best life. 
I count the summers walking to the fruit stand with my dad as moments so dull and suburban but the most precious and wholly me. I ran my hands over already- picked berries, red and black and running warm despite the small plastic tarp flapping its own patriotic duty over our fruits. We tapped and thumped and held all until we found the perfect one, and we quite literally walked back to Joy lane, where my dad lived with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. We played baseball on the lawn, and I still had no idea dandelions were weeds. The honey suckle was the sweetest of all I will ever taste again. 
And that is only one side of my double-fold life. On the other side was a secret, wooded acre of many deer, strawberry patches and the dark skin of my papaw I craved but could never have. His body beaded with sweat, as I held on to him on a tractor that later rusted so completely that the earth claimed it and wrapped its roots around so dense that if kept in its spot, I swear little red-seeded berries would have sprouted right from the wheel. 
The duality of these lives still left me unconvinced, sedated, and unsure. I longed to leave far before I knew why, and as I fell into adolescence, I blamed only the people that brought me love of land and water and deep submersion as they clearly became not symbols of heaven-bound beauty and innocence, but human-weeds themselves. I saw them as grotesque figures—faulty, wasteful, hurt, and broken. I wasn’t grateful for many stories but torn by not knowing my own, feeling the weight of a sin I had not chosen but was thrust upon me that my counterparts seemed to ignore, or maybe even not care. I noticed the knots in the spine of my favorite tree, and I could only see clots of indigenous blood, a Giver of time before ghosts of men came and made me who I am. I cried for nights and weeks. I watched the day become, and I cried out to those I feared for help. 
As time wore on, the only comfort I felt was in what I never noticed before. I had forgotten that there was once a time when fruit was sweeter, the land before me was what it was and nothing more. I saw rivers and lakes as my own skin, as each of our brothers and sisters, and as my mama always said, I was like a fish. I loved and laughed and felt no fear on top of a tree or every night when my mom put peanut butter on my hair to get out the tics. I was the first to climb to the top of the rock wall, I was the girl who held her breath as she let go of a snorkel to touch the bottom of the ocean.
What I didn’t know was that this passion one would day eat me alive. I would become sick, and try to vomit out my own body. But I have never hated this world. Instead I only want to be here forever and touch the earth constantly and love fiercely, and be. In this, I have found a love of my land that outlives time and space. What I didn’t know before was that this passion was far more earthly than what one could narrow down by human restrictions and measurements. What I didn’t know was that I was far more human that I wished, far more religious than religion as human construction could painfully try and bound, and that the only true truth is that of water. And as I am still alive, learning, a broken grotesque version of a child’s imagination, I cannot tell you what the truth is that we all sing about.

Published by celinamcmanus

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