A friend’s father once told me that our school colors originate in an old union of two places. One color represents the city of Greensburg, the other Salem Township. Two generations back, when they merged into one strange gerrymandering of a school district, they merged colors, too: brown and golden yellow. Separately, brown and gold, they are fine. Together, they are nauseating.
I felt nauseated looking at the crinkly, brown wind-pants meant to warm my legs. Beneath them, loudly yellow shorts barely covered my upper thighs. Which color represents me as someone from the township, the flimsy brown or the discordant yellow? Also yellow, a sleeveless jersey probably as old as the district itself draped over my thin torso, and each time a breeze blew in through an open school bus window I shivered. I shivered in part from cold air and in part from anxiety.
Until now, most of the stories I’ve shared belong to people I’ve met in places like Vermont, Chicago, and Southern Africa. I recognize that I have neglected stories which belong to the place I called home for the longest time, and to the people I called neighbors then. There are many worth sharing, especially now that political pundits reduce swathes of the United States into ‘voting blocs.’ Those who were once people are now percentage points in a preference poll. Moreover, one of the major candidates this year is a man who claims to have all the answers for those people I called neighbors for 18 years. Liberals worry that my neighbors will ‘turn Pennsylvania red’ if they vote for that man. They are called rednecks, hicks, and stupid. Let me tell you about one of these people reduced to .01%, hick, and stupid. Let me tell you about my neighbors.
There is a someone–or rather, a something–that has accompanied me on every journey. Yet, I have neglected to share that something’s story. I regret this, and I feel that it is time I acknowledged my poor skin. It’s been patiently waiting for its story to be shared.
My skin has strayed only a few times from the Rust Belt of the United States; that strip of land between lake and river sacrificed for American industry–for automobiles, airplanes, and railways. It knew different versions of this old place: Michiana, the Allegheny side of Appalachia, Green Mountains, and a Windy City; but versions hold similarities. My eyes are used to farms atop filled-in coal mines and the rusted mills where that coal was sent. My ears have always heard gun shots, demolition derbies, and the slow hum of tractors. My nose is accustomed to bonfires and summer sweet corn. My tongue knew goulash, halupki, pierogis, pepperoni rolls, and homemade maple syrup. But, my skin–my skin has felt many sensations.