There’s this clichéd story painted in every small town across our nation. The story tells us that, after high school, a handful of people will try to get away from that single square mile of civilization we call home.
During their junior and senior years, every small-town kid will dream of a world where McDonalds is less than half an hour away. For some it is nothing but a pipe dream. They will stay at home to help their family in some capacity, and sixty years down the road they will end up in the same nursing home as the rest of their classmates who never left town. A handful of those kids will be accepted to out-of-state schools where their eyes will be opened to things they never could have imagined back home.
The sad thing about this story is it ends with a majority of those kids coming back home and living the same lives their parents did. The old men sipping coffee at the local diner like to say, “You’ll come crawling back home soon enough.” I wish I could say they weren’t normally right.
I am not that cliché. I left town the fall after my high school graduation and I never looked back. In the five years since I left I’ve gotten a lot of question about why I haven’t moved back home. “Do you think you’re better than us?” “Why would you want to live in one of those big cities anyway?” “Don’t you miss your family at all?” It’s like taking a multiple choice quiz where they won’t accept “none of the above” as an answer.
I can’t deny that there are things I miss about my itty-bitty farm town. I miss my parents and my dog. I hate that I can’t see the stars at night. I wish sirens wouldn’t have replaced the quiet chirping of crickets that once was my world. I want to see my niece and nephew more than I do. I want to be able to go out with my friends without months of planning trips and coordinating schedules. I want to be able to stop worrying that my mom is going to call me with bad news and I’m not going to make it home in time.
Somehow despite all of that, I know there is nothing left for me there. I have been to far off places that most of my neighbors will only ever see in movies. I have experienced new cultures and been pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to break free of the biases I learned in my home town, and I am better for it.
The smell of a freshly mown field is amazing, but I like being ten minutes from a mall and having four QuikTrips within walking distance. I like having more than ten non-agricultural career options. I can go to a bar without pretending like every one there didn’t treat me like dirt in high school. I can go see a play or take a dance class every night of the week. I can roll out of bed at 5:50 and still make it to where I need to be by 6.
My new home feels like a place where anything can happen, and my old home feels like a Ferris wheel that you will never get off.
If you live in my home town and you’re reading this, please know that I don’t think badly of you for staying. Everyone deserves to be happy, and I’m so glad that our home makes you happy. We just don’t look at the world the same. You look around at our home and you see beautiful fields of green grass, cozy country homes, and those incomparable Midwest sunsets.
When I look around our home I see a world full of burnt bridges and pain. I see the creek where I used to hide after school instead of going home to an empty house. I see the gym where I sat out of volleyball practice and cried because two girls had put gum in my hair on the bus. I see the kitchen where I found out my brother was being deployed. I see the lake I threw my ex-boyfriend’s promise ring into, the one he bought for eight dollars and called his “property of (insert name here)” ring. I see the church where my first love called fifteen year old me “Chunky Monkey”, and I see the bathroom where that same 15 year old me made herself throw up for the first time.
You see God’s Country. I see my own personal hell.
I will never come home, for that place is no longer my home. The men in the diner were wrong, and I will not apologize.