It's not possible to list everything I love about Mississippi, but I can try.
There's Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church, where I walked up the line of pews holding a (heavy) tray of bread when I made my First Communion. I had made my grand entrance on the pew runway years before, when I was the miniature groom in my uncle's wedding. Let's just say I got a little vocal on the altar when I wasn't allowed on the side with my mom. Some call it a temper tantrum, I call it my first audition for the limelight.
Also held on church grounds is the Crab Festival, an annual Bay St. Louis event that my grandfather used to help coordinate before he passed. I'll never forget him, in a white pocket T-shirt, a size or three too small, with a bucket hat and sweatshorts. Now, one of my best friend's family runs the event and I volunteer at the boiled seafood booth every year.
There's the block of Washington Street where I grew up, playing and fighting with my cousins and drinking coffee with milk in the morning with my grandma. A stretch of 20 acres in the Kiln where my house sits is where I spent my years gossiping with my mom, cutting up with my little brother and occasionally helping my stepfather bale hay.
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I could never forget Dolly's Quick Stop, the place where I worked for a decade and learned who I was and what I stood for – all while serving fuel, beverages, chicken on a stick and a little bit of sass. The Dollys who owned the store were like my second and third mothers. Lindsey, Kacey, and Tiff are my sisters, no question.
There's the beautiful stretch of U.S. 90 with sand and water that I would drive in high school and still drive today.
There's an apartment I share with my best friend of nearly a decade, Kayla. We've been through boyfriends, good times, great times, bad times and a couple of ratty couches. I wouldn't trade our experiences for the world.
There are the days when I meet DeRae at our date spot, Sal and Mookie's, when we both needed to talk, vent, Facebook stalk or seek advice. Spots on the Coast map the two of us visited together are vast and hard to trace.
There's the haircuts at Katie Joe's Kuttin Loose, and time with my wildflower friend Katie, who is the Carrie to my Miranda.
And I can't foget about our Charlotte, our friend Jennifer (who just left us for Pennsylvania).
There's a tattoo shop in Ocean Springs where I've made some life-changing decisions and met some of the best people I've ever known.
There's a Crossfit gym in Gulfport where I'm surrounded by motivation, energy, practical jokes and love.
There's a newsroom in Biloxi where I'm surrounded by support, inspiration and a pretty sassy web team, if I do say so myself.
There's Bayou Caddy. There's Shady's Restaurant. There's Just Us. There's The Juke Joint. There's Angie behind the bar at Zepp's on Tuesday nights. There's Lady Boogie. There's my Aunt Amy's pool and my Aunt Rhed's hugs. There's gun shooting practice with Henry. There's RAD ops. There's Sara Louise and Kelley. There's Prep by KUG. There's Kaylee and her precious new daughter. There's random trips to Hattiesburg with my wild cousing Chelsea. There's Crescent City Grill and USM. There's Rachel Beech and the Bushes -- Anna and Matt, that is. There's my favorite Student Printz editorial board. There's my co-worker from Iowa and my nurse friend who would do anything for anyone. And there's Lauren and Nate. And, but of course, Kate. And last but not least, there's the Fillin' Station.
There are many, many things I'm probably forgetting, and for that I am sorry, but I can't even think of all the things I love about this place, about this Coast. Sure, I'm a member of the LGBT community, and you can bet I think the passing of House Bill 1523 is ridiculous. People ask all the time, “Why do you still live in that state? Why are you there?”
Why would I leave when the going gets tough? I'm here to fight the good fight, and a bunch of buttoned-down men in Jackson will never define who I am or what I believe about the place I've called home my entire life.