If you asked me when I first knew, I’d say November. So I’ve been knowing now for nine months.
I could’ve grown a baby in that time, but what I grew was certainty. I grew a longing and I grew homesick for a place I’ve never lived. I grew ready, and I grew less sure some days. But nine months later, and I’m much closer to calling Birmingham home.
I’m still not quite there.
Before last November, I had plans. Planned plans. Good plans. I had plans for grad school in another state. I dreamt of Carolina–it seemed like the perfect place to live. I still think it is; I’d still live there. But now, completely without plans, I know it’s Birmingham. And since I know–I know with the peace that comes from locking eyes with the Lord, seeing his smile, being sure you’re in it together–I thought falling in love with Birmingham would be natural. It was hard to leave Tuscaloosa, hard in a way that puts getting out of bed in the morning in the easy category, but I’ve had nine months to nurture the dream.
But last night, I yelled at Birmingham. I looked at that beautiful skyline and I shouted, “This is not the way to make me love you.” Birmingham–well, she didn’t say anything back to me. She kept moving, frantic traffic piling up on itself. She kept winding, drawing me down roads that held nothing for which I was looking. All I wanted was a bench with a view of the sunset; my heart was achy and I needed to watch that fire spill. But I drove in circles, burning gas and cursing my GPS and finding only parks that were closed and more traffic.
The sun set while I was driving on the Interstate, trying to get back home. It set behind me, and I didn’t see. When I looked in my rearview mirror–all aglow she was–I cried. It was because of the sunset behind me and it was because I wanted to go back home, where there was a bench with my imprint and I knew the route to Chickfila. I wanted to go back to the apartment we emptied and fix a cup of tea. I wanted to sit on the couch in a place where I knew everything, a place where I wouldn’t have to use my GPS one time in a whole day. I wanted to go back to the city I have loved, and it didn’t help that my GPS chose that moment to guide me like this: “Stay on 459 South toward Tuscaloosa.” So I cried big, messy sobs and I yelled at Birmingham and I told her she could keep her cool shows and her publications jobs and her promises, even if they were written on my by the hand of God. I’d take my bench in Tuscaloosa.
I wish I could tell you that I rounded a bend and saw the sun setting, that I took it as the breath of God on me, that I believed again. What happened is that my GPS took me a Chickfila that was no longer there and when I finally got to the right one, I had to order a cookie to calm my heart (not recommended, but also recommended). And by that time, it was dark anyway.
I drove home, cookie crumbs in my lap, gas light on. I drove home and Birmingham quietly piped up: “There will be another sunset tomorrow.”
I bit my lip so I wouldn’t cry, and I’m not sure why. Tear-stained truth is truth all the same. I slipped onto the Interstate in the dark. “This is the way,” I whispered to the city, “to make me love you.”