You graduate college. At your graduation party with family, friends, and family friends that haven’t actually seen you since you were 11, they ask you what you’re doing next. You tell them you’re looking for a job in the city, and you’re getting an apartment of your own. You can’t wait, this is everything you’ve worked for, everything that four years of higher learning has fully and totally prepared you for. The world is your oyster with your pick of the pearls.
Two years later, you leave the city with no money, no job, and no pearls, and you drive up [the] I-5 to the small town you grew up in. You’ve become the very person you used to make fun of in high school… the townie. The one that never left, or that left and then retreated home out of fear of having real adult responsibilities. You vowed you’d never be that person, and yet here you are.
For the first two weeks, your parents are thrilled to have you home. They cook you homemade meals and you sit on the couch together watching episodes of Jeopardy. They assure you that it’s better this way, because you don’t have to pay rent anymore. It’s only a matter of time before they start to nag on you about doing the laundry, and question where you’re going every time you leave the house. TO THE GROCERY STORE. GOD MOM, I’M 24 I DON’T NEED TO TELL YOU WHERE I’M GOING. You find every excuse you can to leave the house for even just five minutes, just to catch a breath, or ironically a cigarette, since you’re stressed out but you know that your family doesn’t approve of smoking.
You leave the house, thinking it will be a sweet escape, but you should have known better. It’s a small town, after all, and the laws of nature are that you will at least run into one person you know, and there is a 99% chance it’s someone you never wanted to see. You see the football players in the park, doing the same plays they used to run on the field. They are exactly the same, only now they’ve gotten fat. You see the boy who bullied you in middle school and kicked your rolling backpack. You see the girl who made out with your boyfriend at the Sadie Hawkins dance junior year. You see your former crush who sat in front of you in 4th period English, whose name you doodled with hearts on your notebook every day. Back then he never gave you the time of day, now he’s asking if you want to get a drink at your local bar and “catch up”. You don’t understand what he means by “catch up” because you’re sure he hasn’t said anything to you since, “Did you do the homework? Can I see your answer for question 7?”
It’s Christmas break, and everyone you ever hated from high school is back, drinking at the local bar. You see the football guys again, chugging beers and chanting like Neanderthals… now you know how they got so fat. You share an awkward hug with a girl who greets you by name. You know she was in your choir class for all 4 years, but you can’t remember her name for the life of you, so you give her an awkward, “It was great seeing you… you.” You have about ten different conversations where you say “Oh yeah just living with my parents” on repeat like a broken record. Your ego isn’t wounded; it’s festering.
But the ones that sting the most are seeing the girls you once called your best friends. You used to have sleepovers and eat your weight in chocolate while watching Disney movies. Now they barely nod in your direction. You’re not even sure if you’re Facebook friends with some of them. They all look so incredibly happy and put together, and you wonder how things ever fell apart.
You start to call up old friends, grasping at straws to remember the good old times. They quickly change the subject to their high tech Silicon Valley job and how much money they’re making. You tell them you’re looking for work, and they respond, “Oh I’ll keep an eye out for you” in a condescending tone.
So you give up. You start to cancel plans. You hibernate. You wonder where you went wrong, how you became the thing you once thought you were above. You were once so successful, people looked up to you… what do they think of you now? You second guess your worth more times than you can count.
Then one day you come downstairs and find out your mom had a stroke.
You start to think about what your life would be like if you lost her. You realize in that moment that while you thought you had lost it all, you really haven’t lost it all. And some of the things you took for granted about moving back to this small town are things that one day you will never have again. This town, your family, and all it represents, will always be your past, present and future, and life is too short to sit around wishing you were somewhere else. The money will come in time, and one day you’ll move out of this place. But your home will always be here, when you rise, when you fall. It is both exactly the same, and completely different. But then again so are you.
So you eat brunch with your mom at the same restaurant you always eat at, and watch the people you know and used to know walk by. And you smile, close your eyes and feel the breeze on your face, happy to be alive, and thankful for this place. Your small town. Your home. You.