Homesickness is a big problem for me this time of year. I don’t even mean the “holiday season” in general, but Thanksgiving specifically. I really, really liked Thanksgiving, growing up. It was a low-key holiday, no extra people, no traveling, just me and my dad watching ridiculous movies, like “A Beverley Hillbillies Thanksgiving”, while my mom cooked.
Wendell, North Carolina is particularly beautiful in late November. A friend from Canada who came to visit me there once said it was like an extra week of October for her. There are sunsets to die for and everything one could desire in the way of leaves. I miss it so much that, true to the cliche, it becomes a physical ache sometimes.
(Downtown Wendell. It’s a small place so we only have the one gazebo.)
But it seems like every time I think of going back to North Carolina one day, something happens to remind me why I can’t. This Monday, that reminder came in the form of an announcement from Pat McCrory, governor of my home state (I didn’t vote for him), that he was asking the federal government to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina.
There are an abundance of responses one could make to McCrory’s announcement, and to similar announcements by other governors in other states. You could point out the fact that no person admitted to the US on refugee status has ever been arrested for an act of domestic terrorism. Or the fact that acts of terrorism inside the US are statistically almost certain to be carried out by white men. Or you might highlight the manifest hypocrisy of the suggestion made by Rupert Murdoch and others that we only let in the refugees who can “prove” that they’re Christian. (Who designs that test? Who cares? Murdoch just failed it!)
“The Holy Family were refugees,” Father Jim Martin has been posting on Twitter, seemingly every few seconds over the last couple of days, like he’s hoping people will eventually get it.
While I am embarrassed for North Carolina and ashamed of Gov. McCrory’s decision, I can’t pretend to be in the least surprised. Of course North Carolina–the state where I lived for 26 of my 33 years, a state I know like the back of my hand, from the Outer Banks to the mountains–doesn’t want refugees. North Carolina doesn’t even want me.
In September, in a nasty-minded effort to make the difficult lives of the poorest North Carolinians next door to impossible, the SNAP program is reverting to its draconian, pre-recession limitations for single, childless adults. Because apparently the senator from Arapahoe thinks that a 20 hour a week job will more than suffice to cover your rent AND your grocery bill.
Weigh this together with the fact that North Carolina is one of the states that refused to expand Medicaid–meaning, if you DO get that fabled 20 hour a week job, you’re considered too rich for Medicaid, even though you’re so poor the healthcare marketplace won’t sign you up. I think it sends a pretty clear message. North Carolina doesn’t want to take care of its own people, let alone extend shelter to strangers.
I left North Carolina an unemployed physical and mental wreck. That was about a year and a half ago. Since I came to Maryland, where I have full health insurance coverage, my mental and physical health have been invigorated. All it seemed to take was a year of counseling and some anti-inflammatories for my tricky tendon–simple things that were nonetheless far beyond my reach in North Carolina.
As a result of the massive improvement of my health, I’ve been working almost full time for the last three months. I still depend on food stamps at the moment, but as I get healthier and stronger and work longer hours, that will probably change.
Since I left North Carolina, I’ve started getting my writing published. I’ve established myself as a freelancer. I buy things now, like books and shelves to put those books on. I’m a functional adult who participates in my community and contributes to the economy.
And I’m doing it in Maryland. Not in North Carolina, where all my memories are, where familiarity bred security and not contempt. It’s Baltimore public schools where I’m going to volunteer as a creative writing teacher, not the Wake County public school system that educated me.
I get stronger, more productive, more focused every day. And I believe in giving back to my community. But the community I’m giving to is the one that took me when North Carolina made it clear that I and people with needs like mine could basically just scuttle away and die like rats–we weren’t their problem.
So on the whole, and despite the fact that Gov. McCrory would never in a million years think of it in these terms, it is almost certainly for the best that refugees not come to North Carolina. They’re better off in a state that understands the value of human life. In other words: refugees should walk on by, because North Carolina doesn’t deserve them.