I left Atlanta for good on August 1, 2015. I had a suitcase in my car and the next several weeks of my life loosely planned.
I returned exactly two years later to the day, living out of the same suitcase and staying in the same empty apartment of a dear friend in my old neighborhood.
In her apartment, everything was how I'd left it, with the exception of the pressed metal earring I lost the day I left and never could find.
A storm arrived soon after I did and I made a dash for her front porch. There, I curled up on a couch and remembered the people who'd sat there with me on sticky summer nights. People I couldn't wait to see. People I never wanted to see again.
There is a languorous ease in sitting on a porch during an afternoon storm. The plump plat-plat-plat of each drop hitting leaves, broken planters. taupe snails. The brief reprieve of a breeze too weak to move trees.
And the thunder.
What comes out after the rain.
In that swelter is my entirety of the South. Every winter is expunged from our collective record as short springs submitted to long, punishing summers that ended close to Christmas.
Every cigarette smoked. Every shirt sweated through. Every type of damp and drained is in that rain.
For the 5 days I stayed, I saw nearly everyone I loved, including a strange black cat that greeted me every time I came and went, and I felt full. I had missed my friends so much, it had filled me with a painful ache for months. Years, really.
It is hard telling the people you love that you won't be coming back in a permanent way, despite the permanent place they have inside of you, wedged like an organ among your lungs and guts. The heart, I think it's called?
While Atlanta isn't for me anymore, I will always feel home in the South, and will fight for its name against anyone who disparages it. (Read: Northerners.)
And, despite our penchant for tea, we call it Atlana. I can't call it home anymore, but I will always call it that.