On Lady Bird and learning to love where I’m from

I never thought I loved Dripping Springs, and even now I wonder if that’s the right word for it. But I paid so much attention to it for so long.

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Dripping Springs is the kind of town that you can’t tell people you’re from.

When I’m outside of Texas, if I say I’m from Dripping Springs, I’m met with laughter or confusion. It’s a visceral, somewhat disgusting town name. There are scant occasions when saying the word “dripping” out loud feels appropriate (and many residents refer to Dripping Springs simply as “Drippin,” or, even more jarring, “the Dirty Drip”). It’s a suburb of Austin most people have never heard of. If they have, it’s usually because they’ve visited the famous Salt Lick on a barbecue pilgrimage or gone to a Hill Country wedding. To make my life easier, I usually just say I’m from Austin.

On the surface, Dripping Springs doesn’t have much in common with Sacramento. But
when I watched Lady Bird for the first time, I felt like I was watching my own teenage malaise brought to life thousands of miles away from my quiet Texas home.

Like Lady Bird, I was positive life would be meaningless unless I fled to the east coast. Even though I grew up half an hour away from the prestigious University of Texas, I felt going to school in my home state in any capacity would constitute failure. I was tired of being surrounded by small town, southern sensibilities. I had no patience for my classmates’ love of football and lack of interest in pop culture.

So I fled. I got into a school in Boston and got a scholarship. I was certain once I got
there, I’d be surrounded by intellectual stimulation and beauty and excitement. I would never again have to spend a night out with friends driving around in the dark or hanging out in the Whataburger parking lot. I would have places to go, things to do. I wouldn’t feel like an outsider.

When Lady Bird gets to college in New York amidst an ongoing feud with her mother,
she stands outside a church and calls home. In only a few lines of dialogue, I found this final scene to encapsulate the feeling of coming of age more brilliantly than the entirety of Catcher in the Rye. First, we see Lady Bird refer to herself as Christine, the name her parents gave her, for the first time. She goes on to ask her mom, “Did you feel emotional the first time you drove in Sacramento? I did, and I wanted to tell you, but we weren’t really talking when it happened. All those bends I’ve known my whole life and stores and the whole thing. And I wanted to tell you, I love you. Thank you.”

Lady Bird’s unexpected homesickness is palpable. For the first time, she truly reflects on what her home and family mean to her. It draws up the profound quote from Sister Sarah-Joan earlier in the movie when Lady Bird is writing her college essay about Sacramento and unable to recognize her affection for the city: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

Sometimes you have to flee a place in order to discern what it means to you. When I got to Boston and said goodbye to my parents, I felt a suffocating weight on my chest. It was hard for me to recognize because I was so sure going off to school far from home was what I wanted more than anything. The more I reflected on the way I talked about my life to all my new friends at school, I had a startling realization: I love Dripping Springs.

Yes, it’s a small, boring, southern town. Yes, I had my fair share of bad memories there. But it’s also endless horizons and watercolor sunsets and looking up at the entire universe outside your house every night. It’s breakfast tacos with handmade tortillas that I still think about at least once a day. I had to get out, but it’s my home.

I never thought I loved Dripping Springs, and even now I wonder if that’s the right word for it. But I paid so much attention to it for so long.

I cried twice the first time I saw Lady Bird. First, when Marion picked her up from Kyle’s house after she had sex for the first time and he was so mean and it was so disappointing. Being a teenager means being an adult and a baby all at once, and Lady Bird’s carefully crafted facade of what she believes it means to be a “cultured” grown-up crumbles around her as she cries into her mother’s arms. To cheer her up, Marion asks: “Want to do our favorite Sunday activity? I don’t have a second shift.” They drive around visiting all the local open houses, dreaming of different lives together.

At this point, tears started pouring out of my eyes. This is something my mom and I have always loved doing, and the comfort Lady Bird and Marion both felt in spending that day together radiates off the screen. One summer in particular, my mom and I also escaped the more tumultuous aspects of our lives to explore open houses on the weekends. My parents moved to a suburb of Fort Worth after I graduated high school, so summers during my early years of college were spent feeling isolated and a touch of resentment that my dad’s job meant I couldn’t be back in my hometown with all my old friends.

It was a real Lady Bird moment for me—being forced to confront my inflated sense of self-importance to begin understanding my place within my family, and within the world at large. I was bored and sad and had many moments where I felt like jumping out of the car, but nearly every weekend my mom and I drove to walk around and
daydream in the fancy houses across town. Years later, I still feel a sense of longing when I drive by an open house sign and I’m not with my mom.

My second big cry was in Lady Bird’s voicemail to her mother, when she talks about
getting emotional the first time she drove in Sacramento. There are very few moments in life where I’ve felt a marked, concrete shift in my identity. The first time I drove a car alone was one of them. I got my license a few days after my 16th birthday. I went to the DMV with my dad and passed the test easily, thanks to his foolproof three-step parallel parking method that has probably served me more than any other skill I’ve learned.

On the way home, he nonchalantly told me I should drive, ignoring the fact that it would be the first time I’d ever driven on the freeway. I remember feeling paralyzed with fear as I merged off the ramp, not yet sure of how switching lanes was supposed to work. I couldn’t express that fear, because if my dad knew I wasn’t confident, there was no way he would let me drive into the city with friends. As I’m sure Lady Bird would agree, this issue was of the utmost importance.

I took the morning off school to take the test, so once we got home I dropped my dad off and drove alone for the first time. Pulling onto the dirt road outside our house, I felt
overwhelmed with emotion. Suddenly, I was behind the driver’s seat of the Nissan Maxima my grandma had driven us around in, then my mom after she died, then my older sister when she turned 16. It hit me on a deep, visceral level that everything I knew and loved was about to change. I would soon live on my own, away from this cozy farmhouse in the countryside, without my parents by my side. I would no longer have the comfort of living in a house with my family. I would be spending a lot more time alone.

In that moment, I felt myself grow up, and I wept.

I can still hear the sound of gravel under the tires and feel the burn of the cracked leather seats that baked in the Texas sun. At the time, the dirt road reminded me of how far I was from everything I thought mattered: my incipient understanding of what culture meant, my pretentious, unfounded notion of what was and was not interesting. Now, I think of those roads and endless hills of cedar trees as puzzle pieces that built me and gave me a perspective I’ll carry with me wherever I go.

Now, I long to see sunsets unhindered by skyscrapers and stars glowing without competition from neon lights. Now, I know that’s what I knew, and it became
an indispensable part of who I am. It represents my relationship with myself, my parents, and my future. And whether I ever return to Dripping Springs or not, it’s a place I will always pay attention to.


This personal essay is a guest post. United By Pop welcomes guest posts of all kinds from its readers and followers. If you’re interested in seeing your own words published on our site, please find more information on our submissions process here.

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