My car glides down the bumpy road, passing by a tree with a malformed limb, like a small throat swallowing down food too big for it. I speed up to 55 around the curve of many a wrecks, driving past a broken down house someone still lives in and an EMS station. My tires are worn out by the potholes and cracks, the road creating a familiar beat like a drum in my car.
The first thing you’ll notice when driving though West Virginia are the beautiful mountains, especially if you come during Fall. They cover the entire state like a warm blanket. The second thing you’ll immediately notice are the roads. All drives across the state are on old country-like roads, all torn up, despite being major routes for cars. Most of them have been quickly and carelessly repaved, typically making the road even worse than it was.
The third thing you’ll notice a bit later is the poverty. Most houses here aren’t even that–they’re shacks, trailers, old barns refurbished inside. All stores have dirty floors and lights are out on most big signs–Walmarts becomes Wal art and McDonald’s becomes McDona d’s. Depending on where you are, those things could be better or worse.
The fourth thing you’ll notice is our sense of humor. Despite being the unhappiest state in America for the eighth year in a row, we make fun of ourselves quite often.
The fifth thing you’ll notice is the lack of civilization. Our cities are actually towns and our towns are actually villages. Many houses are abandoned alongside the road from either falling apart and the people not being able to afford repairs, or because the people have moved as far away from West Virginia that they can.
You see, I don’t blame them. People move away more than they move here. The economy gets worse every year. Last year, in a four hour time span, in one city alone, there were 26 heroin overdoses. Our overdose death rate is three times the national average. Our culture is nonexistent and there’s nothing to do here.
But right now, it’s mainly a drug problem. Our drug problem is so bad that Huntington, one of the biggest “cities,” has been nicknamed “Little Detroit.” People become hooked on opioids, and when they can’t get them anymore, they try heroin.
I won’t lie. I’ve written this post more than once. I’ve wanted to convey just how tragic it is out here, but I can’t do it. You’d have to live here to understand. But I will try my hardest, because this is important.
Some of you may be from America. But if you’re not, when you picture us Americans, you’ll probably picture someone who is above and beyond patriotic–a flag waving in the background as a Bald Eagle swoops into the frame as a soldier fires machine guns–that is very much how most Americans look. We are born very patriotic, more than people of other countries, I think.
In West Virginia, we’re the same way–except we’re not just proud of our country, we’re proud of our state.
West Virginia is a little old state that some people don’t even know exists. It split from the south and joined the union in 1863. We had one of the best economies until companies stopped using coal. Ever since then, our state has been in ruins. People hope that coal will come back, and the people will keep voting for governors and presidents who say it’ll come back, but it won’t.
However, our little state is kinda like the underdog. We want it to succeed. We were born here in this shitty little place, but it’s our shitty little place. We love West Virginia because our families are here, our friends are here. We were born in small towns where everybody knew everybody. Each death effects hundreds of people who knew them, whether they were a governor, a teacher, a nobody, because we know everyone. We make fun of ourselves, but specifically those rednecks in Wayne county. Specifically those guys.
But the people we know, our friends and family, don’t stay here by choice. They stay here because we are all too poor to move. Rarely does a job opportunity come up that’s in a new place, somewhere far away. And because we can’t move, the newer generations can’t and won’t, either.
I was talking to a friend one time who grew up in the Ohio and West Virginia region. He had recently moved to New Hampshire for college, and he was talking about how different it was there. He said that since he came back to West Virginia, he can feel the energy being sucked out of him, even though when he lived here, he didn’t really notice.
My mom often talks about how she and my father lived in North Carolina for a few years. She says when you get out of the Appalachias, it’s a totally different world all of a sudden. People are happier. They’ll talk to you, open doors for you. People have jobs they enjoy and jobs that pay enough. Rent is cheap and there’s a sense of community.
There is also a sense of community here, but not in the same way. It’s more like a mutually shared experience. We know what it’s like around here and we make jokes about it. We know it sucks, everybody knows it sucks here. We don’t have to even say it, it’s implied all the time.
But, yet, as awful as it is, it’s our people out here. Everything else is awful, but we all know each other. We’re a family.
But people keep dying. My God, do you know how many people died just last year that my family knew? No joke, it was week after week of somebody’s death.
Often talked about conversations are about dysfunctional families and how we know somebody who knows somebody who got shot or robbed. We drive through areas where we lock our car doors constantly. Just this year, my small, little town of not even 3,000 people–most of whom live out in the country–started seeing prostitutes walk around in daylight hours, with leopard skirts and Chinese rip off purses. A flea market close by sells junk. No. Actual junk. Rusted screws, bottles, old gears, wood planks, plastic scraps, etc. Seriously, even the shop sign was “Junk.”
You have to be careful where you buy food because many places will give you food poisoning, even popular chain restaurants. Pets die constantly from either the extreme weather, negligence, coyotes, or because their families can’t pay for the vet bills. Babies are born with drug addictions so often that homes specifically to take care of them are loaded pact full of them, with more on the waiting list. Houses are broken down and kids live with mold and lead water. Our roads crumble. Shops close after only a month of being opened. Neighborhoods are still flooded from last year with thousands of misplaced families who didn’t have insurance. The homeless are ignored. Pharmacies reign supreme and their shelves are stocked every day. You can drive down the street and see drug deals take place right in the open. People fail out of high school and for the love of everything that is holy, you do not dare be a liberal here.
But we fucking love it here. We stay like a woman stays with her abusive boyfriend, stating that there’s nowhere to go anyway. And there isn’t. Unless you’re smart enough to get a scholarship to a college somewhere else, you’re stuck here forever. You won’t find a pleasant job and you certainly won’t find a job that pays enough to save up to move. Everyone barely makes it to their next paycheck as the wages are low and the price for everything is high. People who should’ve retired are still working and the youth can’t find proper jobs.
My old and dented car turns and slows to a stop. The pavement on the driveway bounces out of place as I park my car. I lock the car doors, despite being away from most population. Our family Rottweiler eagerly greets me as I walk up the sidewalk. I unlock the door to the house we can’t afford.
I can’t tell you how bad it is here unless you are here. We are trapped here forever. By God, somebody help us.