As of this past August, I have lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, for ten years.
I came to this city in pursuit of a dream, lured by the creative writing graduate program at the University of Tennessee. I came to this city as a young single mother, enrolling my wild-haired, fae-mannered daughter into Kindergarten when we first arrived. I came to this city penniless and freshly tattooed, envisioning myself a sort of academic Vianne Rocher from Chocolat.
I came to this city, and I fell head over heels in love.
I fell in love with my tiny, hole-in-the-wall, one bedroom apartment right off of Sutherland Avenue. I fell in love with Red Onion Pizza and the Pakistani couple who owned it. I fell in love with my morning commute that hugged the Tennessee River as it reflected the morning sun. I fell in love with the campus — the tower where I practically lived, its Q*bert-esque library, the ancient architecture that flanked the outskirts, the bowels of the enormous stadium where I kept my office, the special collections at James D. Hoskins. I fell in love with football — the way the entire city would rally around each home game as if it were the only event in the universe. I fell in love with Market Square — the free concerts, the amazing restaurants, the quirky little shops that seemed to change their names and locations once a quarter. I fell in love with the radio stations — the music, the banter of the disc jockeys, the advertisements for local businesses. I fell in love with Boomsday — such a brilliant, crowded, crazy display of fireworks across the sky every Labor Day weekend. I fell in love with the skyline and its trademarked ostentatious relic from the 1982 World’s Fair.
I fell in love with the fact that there always seemed to be something to do. I fell in love with the fact that Knoxville had so much culture, and yet it was flanked by mountains and vast expanses of countryside. I fell in love with its solid Appalachian roots and vibrant liberal underbelly. I felt complimented by the city, and comfortable living as one of its citizens. I moved from Bearden to Farragut to Fountain City to Powell, and each neighborhood had its own specialized charm, its own rich history and personality. It was amazing to see such a tapestry of life woven within the fabric of one single city.
No relationship is perfect, of course. Knoxville’s politics have often been the subject of ridicule and scorn among my friends who have left the state for more liberal locales. The economic climate of the city is just a little less depressed than the destitute Appalachian communities that flank it. The public transit system is lacking. The city suffers from segregation along both racial and economic lines. Nestled in a bowl surrounded by mountains, Knoxville is notorious for its terrible air quality, for its allergens. The quality of the school systems have a lot of room to improve. And sometimes it feels as if the city is dwarfed by the shadow of its university.
Still, I could never imagine living anywhere else. This city is a perfect fit for me. It’s always changing, and I feel as if I find something new and amazing each year. It’s a wonderful place to play with children, it’s an amazing place to play as an adult, and I feel as if I could spend an entire lifetime here and never become bored or overwhelmed. I’ve come to know her intimately over the past ten years. I will always love wandering her Farmer’s Markets, frequenting her unique pubs and beer gardens, finding little pieces of art hidden in crevices and alleyways. I will always enjoy discovering her history, exploring her backroads, engaging in the ongoing conversation of her landscape. Much like one chooses a spouse, I’ve chosen this city to be my home — to have and to hold, in sickness and in health. And I couldn’t imagine a better match in all the world.