By Caroline Young | firstname.lastname@example.org
The whole saga started on a chilly winter day in Short Hills, New Jersey, a charming and somewhat-snooty town nestled between the hundreds of suburbs of Metropolitan New York. I was in seventh grade, a time that not many girls would probably ever want to relive- at least I sure as hell don’t.
I took my last step off the school bus and I swear I felt my jaw drop to the pavement. “A FOR-SALE SIGN?” I shrieked. I knew they had been talking about moving to some town in Georgia but I had chosen to block that out. “Oh, they must be kidding themselves,” I thought. “They are destroying my life.”
Without hesitation, I yanked that stupid sign out of the ground and brought it around the back of our white-shingled house with a bright red door. I chucked it down into the woods that layered my backyard for an acre until they kissed my favorite park in the world. It is entertaining now that I thought this would actually keep my parents from selling MY house.
I ran inside, called my best friend to please come get me, packed my bag and picked up my runt of a Cocker Spaniel, who is named “Georgia”- how ironic.
“Oh, they will be sorry,” I thought. I now realize that I sucked at running away. I was back about 24 hours later and proceeded to tell my parents the only reason I returned home was because “I ran out of money.”
Long story short, I cried, I threw myself on the floor, I cried more, I pretended I was not leaving my friends, my school, my basketball team, my “boyfriend” that I only talked to on AIM-life as I knew it. I even left signs on my door telling prospective customers to get the hell away from my house.
To my dismay, my sneaky schemes were futile. That summer, I was headed to a tiny town in Georgia called Newnan. The only thing I knew about it when I was moving there was my father said it was famous for a place called “Sprayberry’s Barbecue”….Fabulous.
The Culture Shock
It was my first day of eighth grade. Everyone was in collared shirts, khaki pants and “Wallabees,” common southern shoes that were completely foreign to me. I was used to all the designer clothes common to the New Jersey girls, unfortunately including myself.
People were saying ‘Caroline’ so differently there than in the North that it almost sounded like a completely different name. In the North, it’s Care-o-line, emphasis on the “a.” But in the South, it’s Care-liiiiiine- forget about the “o” completely and just say “line” in the highest pitch voice you can manage and you’re a true Southerner.
After spending a few hours in Georgia, I realized every girl is a blonde and all of them are named Caroline. When I lived in New Jersey, everyone thought my name was so rare and I was one of a handful of blondes among hundreds of brunettes at my school. In all seriousness, I knew about seven other Carolines just within the tiny town of Newnan.
All I can remember was sitting in a strange classroom trying so hard to hold back the tears that I knew were going to burst down my face as soon as anyone said something to the new girl- me. As soon as the scrawny kid next to me said, “I’m fixin’ to go to the bathroom,” I did not think I would make it much longer in this Newnan place.
Later that day, I came home figuring that my brother would have the same reaction as I did- horrified, terribly upset, completely and utterly culture-shocked. But no, John was already planning on buying his first pair of “Georgia boots,” “Car-Harts” and sure enough, he was laying on that southern drawl. I almost fell out of my chair when he said “I’m fixin’ to [insert redneck activity here]” for the first time.
The car ride to school that second day marked the first radio station battle we had over my objection to John’s newfound love for country music. However, it was his junior year of high school, probably the worst time for a teenage boy to move to another part of the country.
The Lifestyle Changes
It didn’t take long before I was reluctantly spewing out “Yes ma’ams,” “No sirs” and calling my first friend Casey’s mom “Miss Susan.” If I were to speak any other way, it was clear I would be considered rude. My mother went from “Mrs. Young” in the North to “Miss Leslie” in the South. In all honesty, I think using Ma’am and Sir is a respectful and appropriate way to speak to adults but I don’t think I will ever want to be called “Miss Caroline.”
Now that I was saying “ma’am” on a daily basis and my brother seemed to be a transformed Georgia-boy, my closet was a strange juxtaposition of Old Navy sweaters and Juicy Couture t-shirts. There were days on the playground, sadly, in fifth grade when my friends and I would stand in a circle and talk about how many “Juicies” we owned. After moving, I no longer felt obligated to keep up with the sick Northern middle school-craze of Juicy. I didn’t realize what a blessing that was until later on, but Amen.
Adolescent girls can be ruthlessly bitchy no matter where you go. I also succumbed to the typical gossip-driven world of young females trying to figure out how to grow up.
But it is really quite simple: Girls in the north are blunt. They seem to say everything to your face and do not want to hold in anything. I remember a particular time vividly; I was walking with my best friend Sam in seventh grade and the big bad eighth grade girls were walking towards us like a pack of wolves looking for their next prey.
“What is she wearing? That Caroline girl, she thinks that looks good?” Their laughter filled the orange locker-lined hallway as they strolled on past us snickering at me. They hated me and they made it perfectly clear.
And girls in the south? They like to take the two-faced approach and prefer to stab each other in the back while acting like everything is perfect.
I knew for a fact, one of my so-called bestfriends told my “high school sweetheart” a lie, causing him to break up with me for a while. Devestated, I called her that same day to confront her and she had absolutely no idea what in the world I was talking about.
In New Jersey, I was celebrating a friend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah every weekend-wearing ball gowns, riding in party buses and living a life far too glamorous for a girl who had barely gone through puberty. I will never forget walking into the most over-the-top Bat Mitzvah of them all- she had a runway with models all night long, life-size cut-out posters of herself and top-notch cuisine. I eventually decided I wanted have one of these shin-digs of my own.
But mother did not find that amusing. Her refusal probably had something to do with the fact that I was raised as an Episcopalian. Attempting to tell my new friend Emily about those extravagant Jewish black-tie celebrations I attended, she scrunched up her face with utter confusion. She had never heard of such a thing. But living in Newnan, I definitely learned every Christian group in existence. I also went from having half of my friends, schoolmates and acquaintances being white, Indian and Asian in the North to being white, Spanish and 60 percent black in the South.
Today, I feel fortunate to have lived amongst the honest and firm attitudes of the Northeast and experienced the warmth and lightheartedness of the Southeast. I found within just one country’s borders, there are completely different ways of living, being, thinking, speaking and interacting.
In retrospect, I am glad my parents moved us, even though my 13-year-old self would not believe in a million years my 22-year-old self is admitting that today. My mother and father’s decision forced me out of my comfort zone and into a place where I thought I would never survive a week. I credit their choice for my interest in other cultures, relentless curiosity, craving for adventure and adaptability to change.
So, thanks Mom and Dad…for, you know, “destroying my life.”
2011 Gargoyle Anthology Award Winner: Honorable Mention for Personal Essay