Southern Bound

Erin Britt essays

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All in all, Starkville is a lovely town with its quaint bookstores and eclectic gift shops. There’s the quintessential college-town burger joint and enough maroon to choke a cat.

And if you’re in need of a good Baptist church? There are more than a few to choose from.

Today at lunch, we ate fried cheese straight from heaven while Chris was interviewed and chauffeured and wooed.

Soon, this Mississippi town will be our home.

And it will be a fine home. Frighteningly hot and humid in the summers, but mild in the springs and falls. As my new Chamber of Commerce BFF told me, “God gave us the seasons, too, Love. Those are gifts He sent our way as well. You Hoosiers don’t have the market on Autumn.”

I’m vacillating between excitement and overwhelm, and I didn’t even know it until I sat down with my four children to discuss life over gourmet burgers. The boys are on board. They’re excited about their new schools, eager for a new adventure.

And then I looked at Mary Claire, crocodile tears streaming down her face.

She is going to miss her Home Girls something fierce. I get that. I feel that. I understand that in my very core. As I watched her weep in silence, a lump rose in my throat, and I knew that swallowing one more beer-battered fry was no longer a possibility. So, I cried with my girl.

Our sweet Southern waitress came by to check on us. She said, “Oh! I can come back later if that would be better for y’all.”

And I said, “We’re fine. We’re just moving here soon—from five states away—and it’s a little unnerving. Do you like living here? Is it a good place to be?”

To which she replied, “Yes, Ma’am, I like it very much.” And then she made a beeline for the solace and comfort of her normal friends and colleagues—the ones who didn’t flavor their Come Back Burgers with the salt of their tears.

Mary Claire and I spent some time in the bathroom together. We hugged, we cried, we consoled.

“I’ll never find friends like I have now,” she wept.

I took her face in my hands, looked her in the eye, and proclaimed, “Sweet Thing, here’s what I’ve learned in all my years on this earth… Everything changes. Whatever you think is permanent and stable and good may very well change tomorrow. Friendships that complete you at age 10 may not exist when you’re 11. And that’s neither good nor bad‚—it just is. Every experience means something important to us. Every relationship shapes us into who we are. But nothing lasts forever. The love I have for you as my daughter? Undeniable. Non-negotiable. Till death do us part, Sister. The friendships you might make tomorrow? Not even on your horizon right now. You don’t have to let the old ones go. But you will need to make room for the new ones. You have so much ahead, you can’t even begin to imagine all the good that’s in store.”

We went back out to drink our Diet Cokes and move forward.

And I tried my hardest to heed my own advice.

Because the thought of leaving my friends right now is a knife in my chest.

I called my Jenny after lunch and cried. And cried. And cried some more. The sweet faces of my concerned progeny pressed their noses against the hotel window as they watched my emotional breakdown take place in the Suburban. I admitted to Jenny that there were lots in life far worse than mine, that there was, indeed, some excitement to the journey, that I was so very grateful for all I had.


Saying goodbye to those I love feels like having to exist with an awkward, gaping wound in my heart.

And, perhaps, therein lies the lesson.

Who am I without my beloved others in my day-to-day life? Who am I if they’re not a short run away, a trip to the nearest Starbucks, a hug on a particularly challenging day?

How do I learn to heal myself?

When I hung up with Jenny, Mara immediately called. “Breathe,” she told me. “Breathe.” And I sobbed and I fumbled and snot ran down my face. “Breathe,” she instructed.

“Maybe your work in Indiana is done,” Mara suggested, her calm voice a soothing balm. “Maybe Mississippi needs something from you now.”

And I stopped to listen.

“I’m so excited for the women in Mississippi who get the opportunity to know you— the ones who get to experience the gift of you and of what you have to offer this world. They are so lucky. And I’m so happy for them. And I can’t wait to come visit you.”

And those simple, heartfelt words shifted my vision.

My heart still feels broken, still feels raw, still knows there are tears to shed and sadness to experience. Jenny will be too far away. My mom will be physically unable to visit us. Mary’s laugh will reverberate through HeyTell only. Andi will raise a glass of wine via Skype.

And tonight, I had the privilege of lounging with my babies (even though they’re not such babies anymore) on a hotel bed in Starkville cheering for the Butler Bulldogs, our home team. And they will always be our home team. We will always be Hoosiers. We might be Mississippi State Bulldogs for awhile, but our hearts are in the Heartland.

And the open wounds that will be left when we drive away to our new destination? We’ll just have to treat them with the utmost care. We won’t touch them, poke them, examine them too deeply. We’ll know they’re there. We’ll keep our fingers out of the injuries. When half our broken hearts are left in Indianapolis, we’ll know they’re being well-tended by our friends and our family and our neighbors. They have Band-Aids. They have Neosporin. They have healing hands.

Hold those hearts tightly, dear ones. We’re entrusting them to you.

And our doors in Mississippi? Always open.


About the Author

Erin Britt

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