A while back I discovered this gem and saved it for when Denizen launched.
I love Yakima and I am committed to this community.
So this piece resonated with me to the core.
My hope is that it will light up in yours too.
With much love,
"Yakima is a shithole."
That's what you hear people say about it anyway.
The reasons for this seem pretty straightforward.
It's just large enough not to be quaint
But still small enough that there isn't really much to do
At least not by the standards of a city-dweller.
It's not easy to take pride in your hometown
When your tourism bureau goes out and takes pictures
In the one week of spring when all the sagebrush blooms
Turning the hills temporarily green
Because nothing quite says "your home is ugly" like
Having to lie about it to total strangers because you're afraid
If they see the brown desert hills, they'll be turned off
And choose not to visit.
Nothing quite says "We're embarassed to be from here"
Like pretending that "here" is really somewhere else.
Some place it's not, some place like every other.
Because Yakima is in the desert.
The deserts of eastern Washington, no less,
The state which fashions itself "The Evergreen State"
And has a picture of a snow-covered mountain on its state quarter.
And to anyone who isn't from the Northwest,
And even for some who are, when you tell them you hail from
"The deserts of eastern Washington," they look at you as though told them
You "grew up on Tatooine, bullseyeing womprats on your T-16."
Because a desert neither matches the image they have in their heads of beauty
Nor the image they have of Washington.
It's a foreign association at best, a negative one at worst,
Such that when you do by chance encounter out-of-staters who
Confess they've "driven through," your immediate instinct is to apologize,
As though the smell of your town in some way wronged them,
As though its dirt had somehow stubbornly embedded itself in the soles of their shoes,
Against their will and now refuses to come out...
And they laugh... because yeah, Yakima looked like nothing to them.
And that's why you apologize, because claiming an affinity for
Something that looks like nothing to someone else makes you look weak
But it's there. We won't admit it to you, but it's there.
You see, we were "town kids,"
Not super street savvy like the true city kids
Or ruggedly resourceful like the true country kids.
We were a little good at a lot of things
Without being exceptional enough at any
To make us special in either context.
We weren't qualified to be heroes
On the merits of what we could do
So we were forced to look inwards
At who we were.
We carried that sense of non-exceptionalism with us when we left.
You see, Yakima made us who we are.
Not in spite of its broken tractors and abandoned lots and tumbleweeds,
But because of them.
Because it was in Yakima that we saw things not for what they were
But for what they could be.
The dead, twisted, rotting tree became a majestic sailing ship
The rubble of a construction project long abandoned became a fortress
We flew the wreckage of an abandoned bulldozer to the moon,
Barely returning alive after an ambush of alien attackers,
Which you would recognized as six-foot tall sticker weeds,
Before we hacked them to bits with our swords,
Which you would have recognized as sticks.
We defeated them together
We grew up together... in Yakima.
So when we left it and went out into the cities
When we went out to the universities, to other states,
To other countries, to the other side of the world,
And found ourselves unknown and untested and unrecognized
And alone in search of a destiny we assumed was waiting for us
Outside of those desert hills, when we looked inward to find
What defined us and made us human and proved we were beautiful
And proved we were worthy of love, what we didn't see were the glassy towers
And evergreen trees and the urban jungle of metro America.
We saw the faces of the ones who showed us love
From when we were too little to walk until we grew up and walked away.
We saw the faces of the friends who went to the moon with us,
Who fought off the aliens with us, who ate mom's brownies with us
After our rocket safely touched down in the vacant lot from which we'd departed.
And behind those faces were barren brown hills, not green ones.
So don't lie to us about Yakima, we know what it looks like.
And we're fine with it. Those hills are our hills.
And, if you didn't grow up in Yakima
And you ever encounter the meeting of two of us who did,
Don't be fooled.
When we talk about how it screwed us up and warped our minds,
Just know we're fine.
When we laugh about the abandoned lots and rampant crime,
Just know it's fine.
Yakima is fine.
We just feel a certain connection we can't describe
With the others who also grew up there.
And we aren't sure how to talk about it.
We're afraid we'll sound stupid if we admit that
The sound of the word "Yakima" makes us the least bit nostalgic
So we default to mockery,
"We made it out!" we remark with a laugh.
We speak of how there's nothing there
And how we're better for our departure.
We pat each other on the back with a smile
And say, "But that's all in the past now!"
Just know, there's a lot more feeling in that statement,
And in that smile than you would ever think.
You see, there really is something about Yakima.
Maybe not for you, but for us.
Just don't expect us to verbalize it in front of you,
Or at all, really.
But to the few of you who grew up there
Who see those hills as something more than sagebrush, sand, and soil
Who hear its name in a crowded bar and look up to scan for a familiar face in the crowd,
Whose image of Yakima includes adventure and rocketships and swordfights
Instead of empty lots, abandoned structures, and broken farm equipment,
To those of you who can close your eyes with me now and see the desert and find it beautiful
I can only say with a smile and wink and a nod, "Seriously,
Seriously you guys,
'Yakima is a shithole.'"
Scott Lindstrom is some dude from Yakima, WA working as a doctoral student researcher at University of New Castle, Australia. He seems like the kind of guy I'd invite to join a table full of friends for dinner and beer, for good conversation, jokes, and fun stories. But I don't know. I've never actually met him.