I want to name my first daughter Virginia. Of course there are major things missing in my life to make that happen, like a husband and the will to even have a child, but eventually, my daughter will be named after the state I love.
I’ve lived in one town in one state my entire life, and I’ve spent most of that life wishing to get out of it. When I was growing up, Virginia wasn’t sexy enough for me. I wanted to grow up in California and be perpetually tan and blonde. I wanted to live in Colorado and be a cool professional snowboarder. I wanted to grow up in New York and be a true local in New York City. I wanted the big cities with the newest trends and cultured city boys with tattoos and stories from all the other cities they had lived in. I wanted anything that was different that ordinary old Virginia.
Most states are known for something. You know, everything is bigger in Texas, Florida is a place to retire, Oregon is a land of hipsters and Massachusetts’ state religion is Tom Brady. But Virginia? You see, we’re sort of in an identity crisis. People from the north think Virginia is part of the south, and people from the south think Virginia is part of the north, and people from Virginia don’t really know what we’re part of at all.
There are parts of Virginia that are like the north. For example, once you’ve passed Fredericksburg, you’ll hit the worst city traffic of your entire life. Country twangs fade away and you enter the land of NoVa. Northern Virginia, not Villa Nova. The hustle and bustle, the 9-to-5, and the politically opinionated. The unusually long commute in Northern Virginia feels nothing like the infamously slow-paced South.
But, my friend, there are also parts of Virginia that are like the south. Head the other way down I-95 and you’ll hit the state’s capital, Richmond. I’ve been to hundreds of cities in my cultured 22 years, and Richmond is still one of my favorites. People say hello to each other as you pass instead of avoiding eye contact. Big buildings fade into small streets of beautifully unique homes. Take I-81 out west and Virginia really starts to show its stuff. Hills give way to vast landscapes of open land sprinkled with little farms. The number of country twangs go up while the number of teeth goes down. Camouflage becomes the new state flag and hunting is a daily activity.
I remember exactly when my opinion changed of Virginia. My roommate, who is from Massachusetts, was driving and commented on how big the hills were in Virginia and how they were unlike any other state. I looked out the window and tried to see Virginia in her eyes. I had been spoiled. I was used to the rolling hills of Virginia. I was used to the crisp smell of leaves burning as you drive through a winding fall road of orange, red and yellow trees. I had looked over the snowy winter that somehow always gives way to a bright green spring. I even took advantage of those terrible white petal trees that smell absolutely awful. And even the painfully humid summers that feel like you’re breathing with a wet towel over your face. Because if you wait until about 8 p.m., the humidity fades as lightning bugs take its place, illuminating the cold honeysuckles you pick as the heavy air dissipates around you.
I realized Virginia wasn’t a place I was stuck living in -- it was an integral part of my life. The balance of slow and fast, the line between north and south, progressive and old fashioned, country and city -- that’s all part of who I am. I love walking fast and the hustle of a city. I also love the feeling of driving slow on a back road with the windows down (which sounds like a beginning of a bad country song.) I love trendy bars and bougie parties. But I also love drinking a beer in front of a bonfire to the tune of cicadas singing.
I had it all wrong. Virginia, with its traffic and confederate flags that somehow still fly, was the best place I could have grown up.
So Virginia, if you ever read this, just know you’re named after my favorite place. A place that has let me see nature’s beauty and meet just as many equally beautiful people. I’ve been all around the world, and no matter what, I’ll want to come back to Virginia at the end of the day. The state slogan is “Virginia is for Lovers,” which my daughter will have going for her. Which I’ll probably regret once she starts to interact with immature boys, but that's another story for another time.