My old Kentucky home is not what you might imagine. It’s not the Kentucky you see in brochures that paint pictures of roaming hills and large farms dotted with race horses. My Kentucky is a portrait of pain, of stories no one wants to know and even more people refuse to tell, of fighting and failing just to survive tomorrow.
My Kentucky is dark, dirty and, some would say, awful. For me, Kentucky wasn’t having a big truck and farm land, but rather was walking two miles to the gas station from my families dilapidated trailer. My Kentucky wasn’t buying wood at the local market so a family could show off their vintage fireplace to guests. It was illegally mining coal from the side of the highway to keep our wood stove going through the winter.
In my Kentucky, family reunions weren’t times of happiness and pride but consisted of watching my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents snorting pills in the kitchen while my sister, cousins, and I pretended to watch cartoons in the living room. My Kentucky was avoiding my grandfather because of the track marks on his arms and pretending my grandmother’s hepatitis came from a tattoo needle and not a heroin needle, because the information would devastate my younger family members. My Kentucky was having more family members in prison than in college and believing that you weren’t truly a man until you had been arrested. My Kentucky was having to be the adult of the family before I was twelve years old, bearing all of my family’s secrets and doing my best to shelter those younger than me in hopes that we would turn out better. My Kentucky was failing at this again and again as I watched my cousins go to jail, have babies as teenagers, drop out of school, drink, smoke, and do drugs before they were even old enough to drive.
My Kentucky was being born while both of my parents were teenagers, and accepting the fact that because of their self-destructive habits they probably wouldn’t live to see fifty. My Kentucky was swearing to my parents that if either of them died of an overdose, I wouldn’t attend their funeral. My Kentucky made me realize that some people are just destined to fail, so maybe it’s better to just look out for yourself.
My Kentucky isn’t an illusion to console people who aren’t used to seeing the real picture. My Kentucky is accepting the stereotypes as truth and dealing with them despite the disadvantage. In my Kentucky, the shadows aren’t ignored just to focus on the beauty of the mountains. My Kentucky isn’t perfect, but it is my home.