So I come home about once every six months. “Home” is in the northern part of Georgia, between Chattanooga and Rome. It’s that dead space that’s riddled with bypasses and completely avoided by the age-old I75 that runs down to Atlanta.
What I see when I get here is decay. I see trees cut down in numbers, showing the ruts and treeless hills rolling over themselves, trying to escape. There’s buildup everywhere, detritus and rotting wood mixed with plastic bottles and Budweiser boxes turned to mush by rain. I drive by a lot of that. There’s one recycling center that I am aware of, and I drove by it, all of the equipment sitting outside and rusting. There’s no recycling here.
There is abandonment, though. I wanted to take pictures, but the pictures don’t show a damn thing. The industry has leeched away. The bus factory has closed and the denim mill is going broke. Everyone works weeks that aren’t full, and you can tell. There’s a sense of quiet disrepair over the whole area. It’s a slow collapse.
Of course, the process accelerates whenever possible. Last year there was a flood. This year there was snow on Christmas, more than there has ever been before, or at least more than anyone can remember. I think of what old man Wade says in Child of God, a book that I’ve read and re-read recently. He says that there might be some places that people weren’t meant to live. Everytime I come home I think of that. The Appalachian foothills are a frightening place–there’s years of terror and heartbreak and violence and rage down in the ground here.
The things you hear about here feel different than the tragedies that I hear about in other places. Urban violence feels necessary. People living in close quarters, the heat and the stress. I understand that, to some extent. But the violence that happens in isolation here is amazing. It’s like it springs from nowhere. I mentioned Child of God up there, and it ties me to this area even more; McCarthy is writing about eastern Tennessee, but the murders in that novel are partially based on things that happened mere miles from where I’m from.
Maybe it has always been decaying. I’m hopeful. I’m waiting for something to come in and really fix things. But I experience a sinking feeling when I’m here. There’s so much hope. There are so many family stores, shops, thrift stores, ventures that take sacrifice and faith to even attempt to start. But my mother, who works in a thrift store, says it best: “After our store opened up, seventeen other thrift stores opened. Now there’s just us and one more.”
The hope dies. The family store, newly opened, will probably disappear, replaced by nothing, and the shopping center will rot. Like the barns on backroads, padlocks on their doors and holes in their roofs. Every time I come here, I wonder what could have made it different. Is it anything?
It’s in the dirt here. It’s in the blood.