The Battle of Atlanta
The life I left was in flames. Our battles waged behind closed doors, except when those doors were flung open in a rage. Once I was sufficiently defeated, he took us east towards Savannah, and then south past Jacksonville. I left Atlanta in ruins, with the black smoke following. In the first moment of the first time he let down his guard, I ran north, slipping through cities and staying at cash-accepting motels, until I arrived at a stop of safety. There I remained for two years, until the fires crested, and then crashed.
It is a city to which I returned as one returns home after the smoldering fires, having nothing left to burn, have smothered themselves, and the only choice is to rebuild.
It is the past, the present, and the future.
The scene that greeted those Atlanta residents who returned to the city in 1864-65 was grim indeed. Much of the city lay in burned ruins, the railroad lines—the lifeblood of Atlanta—were destroyed, and there was only $1.64 in worthless Confederate currency in the city treasury. Despite these austere conditions, Atlanta emerged from the ashes to rebuild quickly—bigger, noisier, and with even greater ambitions and goals than before. A New South City
My scene was unendurable: a marriage ruined by hatred and abuse and my children living with their father. Life lay in ruins, and though I had more than the $800 I had when I left, it wasn’t much more. I rebuilt, quickly according to some and at a sloth’s pace according to others, and just right according to me. I have even greater ambitions and goals than ever before. I am a New South Me.
Nearly every other Atlanta resident I knew had left as well. Gretchen had tired of Rome and Paris and Rio de Janerio after 15 years of attending trans-Atlantic flights and moved to Seattle for Japan. Maria and her family moved to Denmark when her husband was transferred putting their French, Spanish, and English skills to the Danish test. Sydney was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to begin her Ph.D. at Queen’s University of Belfast and went to Northern Ireland, and fell in love and got married and stayed.
Alison is still here with her family. I see them often. They are good people. Former neighbors, they live next door to The House. I see it often. It is a house. It has been remodeled. What memories were left in the damaged doors were removed and replaced with new supports and structures, and happy playdates, movie nights, and sleepovers. It helps that the kids don’t recognize it as haunted when they come to visit and we go to play.
I have not seen the end of the Silver Comet Trail. I haven’t tried. I live by the beginning. It’s where I run, walk, bike, sit, and solve myself. Along the winding, paved path, thoughts and questions and rambling nonsense take shape into clarifications and understanding. Frustrations are fought and cried out, sometimes under the guise of a hard worked workout.
I have seen the Fountain of Rings completely empty; not often, but enough. In those moments of solitude, I slip off my shoes and run through the waters. I’m soaked. My hair is flat. Depending on what mascara I put on in the morning, I could have streaked cheeks. It’s happiness inducing. It’s cold water and hot sun, and a feeling of abandon.
I have not seen the sun rise from the top of Stone Mountain. I haven’t tried. It’s a 45-minute drive, sunrise is early, and traffic never ceases to jam, ever, 24-hours a day. I have been to the top. It is where I am small. Where my space, what amount of real estate I take up as a person, comes into crystal clear view. It’s where I don’t care if my hair gets messed up in the wind because I am taller than the trees. It is where I remind myself, though I be but little, I am fierce (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3, Scene 2). Never mind the Confederate carving with a horse’s ass big enough for a dinner party to sit on the saddle.
I have seen the inside of my home. Perhaps too much. Furniture is minimal, limited to necessary for comfort. Every piece has a story as to how it became my space. Every piece, save a few, was a gift, donated to me by strangers and near-strangers, rather than sold or trashed. I have a patio where I can watch the sunrise over the early morning traffic of The Perimeter. I’m just outside the border. Rent is cheaper.
Postbellum in A New South City
Scorched to near ruin, I washed the soot and tended to the debris. I built home again in Atlanta. It is the full circle of my journey. I took walls from Piedmont Park, and floors from the Village Green. I found my roof at Kennesaw Mountain and my supports at Atlanta Rocks. Inside I put my donated household and the table I ate dinner at growing up. Outside I grill, even in December, because I can.