Letters from Ashley Faison & Tyler Harris
Illustrations by Baxter Miller
Three years ago, my fiancée and I decided to leave our home in North Carolina to explore opportunities in New York City. I love North Carolina and to leave it behind was not easy, but I’d always dreamed of moving to the Big Apple. It was there I would find opportunities that I’d never find again.
Over the next few years, I worked on some of the best comedy shows on television and with some of the biggest names in the entertainment world. I found my passion for working in post-production. I worked long hours with some of the most creative minds I’d ever come in contact with and was mentored by some of the best in the business. It was rewarding. My career and the City were exciting. The world's most amazing restaurants, best sporting events and hottest comedy shows were at my fingertips. It was invigorating to be a part of something bigger.
But life in the big city takes a toll. Pretty soon the magic I had felt when I walked in Greenwich Village or through Central Park started to fade. I missed knowing people’s names and them knowing mine. I missed striking up a random conversation with a stranger in a Food Lion. I missed being able to drive on an open road with windows rolled down, listening to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and seeing the sun setting in my rear view mirror. I missed the smell of fresh cut grass and seafood cooking in the kitchen. I missed Bojangles. I missed lawn seats for concerts that didn’t cost a small fortune. I missed the ease of being able to go see my Mama without having to schedule time off and pay an arm and a leg for a plane ticket. I missed my family. I missed my friends. I missed home.
In July 2014, my world flipped upside down when my Mama was diagnosed with Leukemia. Life in New York and the long days and work weeks that came with it moved on, but I lived for the Fridays when I’d fly out and spend weekends with her while she was treated at Duke Hospital. Every time I boarded a flight at RDU to head back to New York, I left more of my heart back home. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was watch my Mama go through aggressive Chemo and wonder if it was working. The second hardest thing I’ve done was walk away from a blooming career and a city with so much opportunity — but I had to come home.
North Carolina, as it always has, opened its arms and welcomed me back. I returned with my priorities intact, a new job — and my head held high. I’m a local and I’ve always been proud of that. The first thing people in New York would ask me once they heard my accent was, “Where are you from?” and I was always proud to say “Bridgeton, North Carolina.” Then I’d tell them about Pepsi and Atlantic Beach and Eastern NC BBQ and biscuits and summer days that linger and rivers that calm and old ladies that keep their monthly hair appointments and Duke-Carolina games and how you can never find bread or milk when a hurricane is coming. I may have left North Carolina for a little while, but it never left me.
My mama’s now been in remission for over a year, and I’ve never felt luckier to live here. We can look in one direction and see the coast and look in the other and see the mountains. We can jump in our cars and drive to either one without it being a hassle. There are wonderful people everywhere, but here there’s a sense of community that I’ve not experienced anywhere else, a sense of everyone knowing where I come from.
For those of us who grew up here and for those of who choose to grow old here, you can see it in our eyes that we know the magic of our surroundings. If it wasn’t something to write home about, not so many of us would. Whether you’re born and bred or just rolling through, you’ll always find someone saying, “Hey Y'all” and welcoming you home.
In 2011, I moved to Manhattan from Chapel Hill looking for a new challenge. I loved North Carolina — it’d been my home for 22 years — but was ready for a change. New York City meant expansive opportunity — an exciting job, neighborhoods to explore and friends to meet. But most of all, it meant a new energy. As soon as I arrived, I felt the buzz of the city and fed off of it. I loved being busy and I couldn’t get enough of everything the City had to offer. I ran myself ragged, diving into work, trying out new restaurants, conquering the West Village without a map and training for the New York half marathon.
While the endless opportunities of New York give energy, they also drain it. Without realizing it, I was on an express train to burnout. The drain became as much part of my daily routine as changing my shoes when I got to the office or racing after work to make it to the dry cleaner before it closed.
I would come back to North Carolina for holidays or vacations worn out and burnt out. Despite my exhaustion, the first thing I would notice when I got off the plane in the Queen City was the pace of people walking around me. And I was annoyed. I’d grown accustom to the speed and dance of walking the streets of Manhattan. In the Charlotte airport, I was in as big of a hurry as ever, rushing to leave the terminal and see my family and friends, trying to maintain my Manhattan pace.
It took me more than a few flights to realize I was missing the point. People weren't walking slowly because they had nowhere to be. They just weren’t in a constant rush to get to the next destination and cross the next thing off their to-do list. They were enjoying the rocking chairs and asking each other how the flight was. They were present.
I'll probably never walk slowly in the airport, but now, the stroll is a subtle reminder that I'm home. It's a soft prod, reminding me that sometimes slowing down can give me more energy than speeding up. Telling me to appreciate the sunset as I drive down Billy Graham Parkway with the windows down. To be in awe of the blooming trees on Queens Road West ushering in the Spring. To notice the welcome whisper of a breeze passing through the back porch on a summer evening. To make the turn walking the Sugar Creek Greenway and marvel at the backdrop of the uptown skyline against a Carolina blue sky. To hold the door for someone at the Harris Teeter. To sit on the porch at Selwyn Pub and cheer the Heels to victory while I relish an Olde Meck Copper.
When I leave North Carolina and the plane lands back in Manhattan, I now try to resist the urge to immediately turn on my phone and see how many emails I’ve missed. I try to take a minute to be present. To appreciate everything I love about North Carolina and bring a little of its soul back to Manhattan — goodness knows the City could use a little southern charm. The buzz of New York will always invigorate me, but the heart of North Carolina will always renew my spirit and it will always be my home.