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I Ain't No Southern Belle
by Melissa Morello,
twelfth grade

Even the toilet water freezes in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Good thing we didn't move there--Connecticut was cold enough. Yet, when my parents decided on Georgia, a job change provided an insufficient justification to go; my lavender walls, the beige stucco, and cool Italian-tile kitchen floors of 21 Royal Drive, Bristol, Connecticut spelled home for me.

The day we left, I revisited each vacant room, silently blessing the bare walls with a kiss, and re-memorizing each crevice, each carpet stain, each ladder-shaped shadow draped across the room I tucked a note between the wooden boards of my secret hiding place: the storage closet that branched off of my room I don't remember what I wrote, but the letter was like an impending communication between the future dweller and me; a mystical connection of the past and present. When the last box was loaded into the U-Haul, I glared with resentment at the vehicle. I wanted to kick it; instead, I ripped a piece of the orange and white paint from its side and tossed it into the front yard. Not quite justice, but I felt better.

As we crossed each state border, I snapped pictures of the welcome signs, the sunsets, the endless stretches of asphalt ahead of us. Three days later, I shot a photo of a giant peach looming in ludicrous magnificence over the side of the highway (my younger sister noted its striking resemblance to a bare behind)--we had officially arrived on the rust-colored clay of Georgia's turf. We crammed what we could into our 2-bedroom apartment, which was our temporary residence until our house sold in Connecticut. My younger sister Monica and I shared a 9x10 foot room, with a whopping half-inch gap between our beds and an entire 1.5 feet of closet space each (needless to say, we experienced a few tape-down-the-center-of-the-room incidents). The opulent white walls and airy floorplan were a contemporary contrast to our Tudor/cape-style house in Connecticut, while the gray, marble tiles sweeping over the dining room floor and walls invoked memories reminiscent of the gray tiles lining the foyer at 21 Royal Drive. Our 5th floor balcony looked out over the tennis courts and rectangular poo--a refreshing change to our previous method of cooling off in the sunless basement. Once a rare treat, riding in elevators became a daily necessity, though the five flights of stairs provided an alternate route as well as a couple of minutes of intense exercise.

I slowly acclimated to the new world of ten-lane highways, southern drawls, and bleach-blonde hair. Strangers waved in the streets, and restaurants served either "sweet" or "unsweet" iced tea (a convention virtually unheard of in the North--you added your own Equal EVERY time). The first two weeks of seventh grade, however, were pretty lonely. I dreaded group assignments and my lunch break, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I might melt into the cafeteria floor and at least partially conserve my pride. I poured over my sixth grade yearbook almost daily, reading and rereading the messages scrawled across each page from my Connecticut friends; I plastered my locker with pictures of them; I wrote letters religiously. I'd never felt so out of place and alone.

The first person who ever talked to me at school was a girl in my PE class named Kristen Nolan. Clad in Gap overalls and a gray tank, she whipped out a container of spearmint tic-tacs and shook one into my hand, simultaneously asking if I was new and what my previous home was like. Bored eavesdroppers scooted their way over to the conversation as the coach called the role, and we all shouted to each other over the loud whir of the gymnasium fan while passing around Kristen's spearmint tic-tacs. Kristen and I never really became friends, but that first conversation spurred a couple of friendships in PE class, and I met people through those people, who introduced me to even more new people. My shattered dignity was slowly regaining its strength. By the second semester, I cracked my hermit shell--I ran for student council president and served as a team representative. I joined the track club. I established a circle of friends. The tumultuous transition days were finally over; I even managed to slip an occasional "y'all" into my conversations.

Two years and many sweet teas later, we landed a stellar deal on a house in Peppermill subdivision. Open and airy were understatements, as each room flowed gracefully from one into the other. We hauled sleeping bags, a cold bottle of Martini & Rossi, and a last-minute 8-foot Christmas tree into the cathedral-style living room on Christmas Eve so that we could spend the holiday celebrating. Positioning the camera across the room, we linked arms, smiled, and captured the first f many memories to come in front of the bare white mantel of our new home-12 Peppertree Court, Marietta, Georgia.



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