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Every year growing up that I can remember, I spent my summers in the small town of Graniteville, South Carolina. The population was 2615 as of the 2010 Census, and Graniteville was named for now non-existent, Graniteville Company. There’s no mistaking the industrialism of the town. The only difference between now as I walk down the street to the creek, and fifteen years ago when I was younger is you could smell the pollution coming from the mills from a mile away.

Now it’s more like a scene from the pages of The Lorax. There were never any truffala trees in Graniteville that I know of. If there had been, it sure looks as if they were long ago used up. It’s become a ghost town. The mills have all closed. The parking lots that were once teeming with energy and purpose are now overgrown and cracking. The small shopping center next to the railroad tracks that run through the town center are all but abandoned. I glance around realizing that the worn and run down houses in our neighborhood were once the nicer mill homes. 

The biggest news coming from Graniteville isn’t about how it’s the industry leader for textiles anymore. It’s about the train wreck that happened in 2005. I had just turned twenty-three in November. I was in the middle of my second year of medical school. My papa was sick and had almost passed away in December from complications of his Diabetes. The accident occurred in January of that year. 

It wasn’t unfortunate enough that my family watched the town we loved become even more dilapidated, but we also lost several friends. Others have suffered irreversible illnesses because of the chlorine leak caused when the rail cars derailed, crashing into the middle of the town right in front of our church, St. Paul’s Episcopal. It nearly fell apart from the chemical damage. I swear, I thought this nightmare would destroy my grandparents. They had to watch every material thing they loved literally become tarnished.

Even though the house seemed far from the tracks, if it hadn’t been for the creek separating the land, we could have easily walked to the crash site from our house. We were the lucky ones, though. Our house suffered no damage. We didn’t get sick. We survived.

I didn’t feel as if I could leave to go to a war-torn country without coming back here first. I need to be in this place in case I never get the chance to come back again. I need to sit on Papa’s lap one more time. I need to strum my fingers across that tattered wallpaper, have one more home cooked meal from my Memaw, and run down that big hill. I need to feel that rush of adrenaline. I need to skip stones in this creek.

I find the large rock that has always doubled as a bench and sit down. Visions of him come flooding into my mind. I wonder what he’d look like now. I wonder if he’d still love me. I reach down and pick up a stone, rubbing it as if it’s a magic bottle, and a genie is suddenly going to grant me three wishes. Oh, what I’d give to have those three wishes? But there are no genies, and there’s no way it seems to regain what I’ve lost.

This town, this creek, they might not be much to many people, but it built me. This creek was my solace, my comfort when I thought I couldn’t go on another day. Well, this creek and him. He was my saving grace, and even though I lost him, when I’m here I can still feel our connection. I clinch my eyes closed as I recall our first kiss here. The images of falling in love play like a movie in my mind. I gave him everything I had here. My heart, my body. Despite how everything around me has tarnished, this creek and my memories are the only things that seemed to make it out unscathed. This place is where I became the confident woman I am today. This is home.

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