This is a story about a relationship with a place I just left last week. Rock Hill, SC is about an hour south of Charlotte. It is rural. It is suburban. It is conservative. Yes, you can see the occasional rebel flag there as well as trailer parks, cars on blocks, and various other stereotypes. My husband and I only moved there because I had planned to pursue a PhD in rhetoric at The University of South Carolina in Columbia. The place was a compromise between Columbia and Charlotte. Ben worked at Wachovia at the time. We’d both drive about an hour. But we didn’t think it through.
When we moved there, we gave up all the pleasurable symptoms of living in a growing city. Restaurants. Proximity to cultural events. Parks. More than one Starbucks. What Rock Hill had to offer was invisible to us for the first few years we were there; we were so focused on what we had lost. We spent most of our time driving back to Charlotte to go to dinner, to movies, to meet friends for lunch. No one but my in-laws would make the trek all the way out to the small town to visit. We had a lovely home with more square footage than we felt we deserved, and no one to share it with. Three weeks into my PhD program, I quit. The house and the town became prisons. We became depressed. We stayed inside.
Ben took a job with HP which would allow him to work at home. Working at home is a blessing and a curse. We spent more time in that house.
A year after we moved in, Ben’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I drove an hour north to teach at UNC-Charlotte. We stopped talking to most of our friends in Charlotte. We stopped talking to each other. I blamed myself for moving there. We were terrified.
Then, in summer of 2010, we got a border collie named Desmond. Border collies are energetic and this one was traumatized from the neglect of his previous owners. He was heart-worm positive. He was ten pounds too thin. We began to nurse him back to health and in that process we started our long walks, just dog mom and Desi. I taught him to walk on a leash without pulling; he just wanted to please and have a job, being the herding type. We developed a routine. I would rise early and walk him before the heat of the day took hold. By 10am in the summer, you can barely breathe from the wet heat in South Carolina.
We walked to the front of the neighborhood to a field –a former farm, what kind I’m not sure. There’s an old water pump at the entrance to the field, ten foot blackberry bushes at the rear, and peach and persimmon trees. Come July, we’d take grocery bags for fruit. I kept pits to plant. We would walk in unison without thought falling into a rhythm of dog and human breath and sweat. He would mark all the trees. We would rest beneath a relatively young Sugar Maple with moss growing at its base. I watched him scan the landscape, notice birds and grasshoppers, and found a sense of peace in the daily changes in grasses –the dew soaked spider webs spread like pox across a body, the dandelions when they bloomed and coated the field in their butter yellow haze. I learned that field’s nuances. I saw dead birds and deer tracks, caught a glimpse of a fox one morning and wondered if he were the Fantastic Mr. Dahl wrote of. I got annoyed when the mowers came and clipped everything even though it meant I was less likely to get ticks and I’d have less “nature” to pick out of Desmond’s fur. We walked for several miles a day. When we returned home, we were breathless and ripe. He slopped up water and lay down with all fours stretched out next to me as I did yoga stretches. My downward dog drew nose kisses. It was on those walks that I learned to appreciate the subtle quiet of Rock Hill and a sense of ease grew anew in our household.