You’ll go back to your hometown in college. You’ll bring two loads of laundry and a big, hungry heart. You’ll feel a mixture of pride that you are making it on your own and disappointment that you still miss some of the comforts of your previous life. You’ll go out at night and drink three-dollar beers with the people who once took up your whole world. You’ll hear about new friends and old friends and you’ll note subtle differences between those who stayed and those who left. You’ll leave with clean laundry and a sense of nostalgia. You’ll know you’re moving on and that ultimately, that is good.
You’ll go back to your hometown in love. You’ll text your parents “We’re coming down for the weekend,” and feel hopelessly adult in doing so. You’ll chuckle at the preposterousness of separate bedrooms. You’ll introduce them to your family with pride. Your hometown will become a museum when you bring back someone you love – this is the diner I waitressed at, this is the place where I fell and broke my leg. You will want to showcase all the corners of the city that you were so eager to leave behind because you’ll want them to know about what made you you. You’ll sit on the grass outside of your high school and laugh at what can no longer touch you. You’ll remember someone else you once loved within these city limits and you’ll decide that some memories still get to only be your own.
You’ll go back to your hometown alone. You’ll text your parents “I’m taking the bus,” and you’ll come to hide out for a while. You’ll keep your head low and your heart humble. You’ll take comfort in the fact that some places in the world are so deeply entrenched in the past that there’s little room left to be sad about the present. You’ll walk by the tree where you had your first kiss and the house someone first told you they loved you inside. You’ll think of all the firsts and lasts you have had in this city and you’ll remember that you survived every one of them. That you got out and moved on and that you can do it again. You can do it this time, this way, with this heartbreak, too.
You’ll go back to your hometown defeated. You’ll graduate or lose your job or fall apart at the seams and be unsure of where else to turn. You’ll default to your safe place to land. You will ghost the local hangouts and avoid the people who used to cut your hair and teach you English. You won’t want to admit that you’re directionless right now, so you will lay low while you try to work things out. You’ll both resent and appreciate the chance to come back. You’ll know that you are lucky but you’ll also feel disappointed in your decision. You will want to hide out from everyone. You’ll want to hide out from yourself.
You’ll go back to your hometown triumphant. You’ll return with your dream job in tow and your head screwed on right and those visits to the gym finally showing off their hard work. You’ll dare other people to run into you – old exes you still see on Facebook and frenemies who loathed you in high school. You will flippantly declare, “I’m just popping in for a visit,” as if this town were somewhere ceaselessly below you – leaving “I can’t believe you stuck around,” as the unspoken undercurrent of casual conversations. You will stick up your nose at the place that once raised you and you’ll secretly pride yourself for being strong enough to move on. You’re a big fish and your hometown is a small, small pond. That’s what you’ll tell yourself, anyway. That’s what you’ll need to believe at the time.
You’ll go back to your hometown for a tragedy. You’ll bow your head and shake hands and realize how quickly and uncertainly everything can change. You’ll be lost for words when you need them the most. You’ll search for comfort and come up empty-handed. You’ll realize that life doesn’t stop or slow down when you are busy making other plans and you will vow to keep that in mind a little more. You’ll remember how much your roots matter. No matter how much you try to deny it or how far away from home you run, you will never rid yourself of the place that brought you up – and you are grateful for that, if nothing else.
You’ll go back to your hometown for a celebration. You’ll come back to the people who never left at all and be surprised at the lives they have built for themselves. You’ll drink at weddings and cry at baby showers. You’ll reminisce over the good old days and realize that newer, better days have found you all – and that life can still be so unpredictably beautiful. You’ll feel past wounds and pettiness fading away each time you come – you can no longer remember what it is about this town that once scathed you and why you lusted to leave it so determinately. You’ll find the comfortable balance between past and present and it suits you – it will keep suiting you for years to come.
You’ll go back to your hometown with acceptance. You grow into a different person each time you leave but there’s a part of yourself that pervades each time you return. And eventually, you will make peace with that part. You’ll appreciate it. You’ll be grateful that in a world of so much chaos and change, there is a small, quiet part of you that cannot be conquered. You will be glad to come home to it, when you return to your hometown. After years and years of searching, you will finally be glad to come home.