Our last stop on the road trip was Charleston, South Carolina. It was hot as hell, the kind of heat that makes it hard to breathe and made me believe I could hear my skin crackling and burning. We wandered down cobblestoned roads and took detours through overgrown civil war era graveyards, where you could hear cicadas and all the gravestones were unreadable and covered in vines, or if you could read them, everyone died at a ridiculously young age. There were old, beautiful pink houses, and you could easily imagine the city as it looked like hundreds of years ago. It was beautiful and stifling. We walked down to the water in the vain hope of a breeze, past sweating fools getting married in a hot gazebo of bad choices. I felt like I should be representing my country better – hell, my childhood was basically a who’s who of desert regions, but my weak, milky skin was having none of this. We went to a museum which was in one of the original slave trade buildings, and learnt about the buying and selling of people, and it was awful and beautifully air-conditioned.
And we walked past the church where the shootings had occurred only a couple of days earlier. It was weird – I felt like the city should feel different in some way. I later found out that there were protests and vigils that night, and a Confederate Monument that we looked at on the foreshore was graffitied with ‘Black Lives Matter’ sometimes shortly after we were there. We had some kind of hot discussion about confederate flags, in which everyone was agreeing about how shit it was, but it was so hot it felt like an argument. Michelle told us about the drills she has to take her class through in the case of a shooting – she has to stuff as many as possible into the small class bathroom, and hide with the rest under the desk. She has to cover the windows and put up secret signs to show that she’s in there and hiding with twenty children. Lyndsay talked about having to do similar things in high school, and about metal detectors and campus policemen with guns. It felt insane to me. I couldn’t imagine being a child who not only knew, but lived in fear of gun massacres. Then again, my school was full of deadly snakes, so perspective. All over America while this was happening, people would say things along the lines of ‘sorry about racist, gun-filled America, bet your country is looking pretty great right now’. But unfortunately, our country is still horrific. Sure, we have gun control, but we also ship children to offshore concentration camps, and are quietly and efficiently bringing about another stolen generation due to the amount of Indigenous people being held in custody. We have race riots that I remember seeing from my sharehouse window. Australia is still deeply embarrassing.
We stopped off at a place for lunch that was named after an African-American slave who lived well over a hundred years old, and we ate southern food. Southern food is weird and delicious and full of butter, and I tried cornbread and sweet tea and pickles and chicken fried chicken. Every meal was enormous. A lot of it is corn based and therefore gluten free. A huge line formed outside the restaurant, as we’d apparently just beaten the lunch rush, and we saw two people with parasols walking past, and I tried to imagine what it would have been like when women were expected to wear bonnets and corsets and giant dresses in this heat, and it seemed insane to me, and also the cliche of the swooning southern woman suddenly made sense, after a few hours of walking around in my black jeans I could have had a swoon, just you watch me.
This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016