1. Everyone was constantly in your business. Constantly. It didn’t matter that you were eight years old, there was someone that knew where you were last night, what boy/girl you were talking to, and the fact that your bike was parked outside of the neighbor’s house for over three hours. And they told your parents.
2. There was not a lot of choice in terms of the kids you hung out with. There were usually only a few of them in the neighborhood, and whether or not you actually got along, those were going to be your friends by default.
3. Church was a huge thing, and everyone would get irrationally judgy towards you if you didn’t go to church.
4. There weren’t a lot of options for “places to hang out” when you were a teenager, so you mostly just hung out in random fields or cul-de-sacs, passing around a drink, talking about how bored you were.
5. (And this is why so many small towns end up with drug problems. Because there’s nothing to do but get inebriated, and a lot of people take that to extremes.)
6. Especially in southern small towns, there was a lot of casual bigotry in a lot of different forms. Lots of talk about “boys will be boys,” racist jokes, and general xenophobia. When people refer to that kind of stuff as homey or old-fashioned, it’s hard not to conceal your confusion.
7. Now that you’ve left, everyone expects you to have nostalgia for your small town, because you’re “stuck” in the “big city.” (The secret is that you love it here, and are so excited to be somewhere where there are people of multiple ethnicities and more job opportunities than “cashier at the corner store.”)
8. If you wanted to go to any store that wasn’t the three stores in your town, you had to drive thirty minutes to the next town over. Getting in the car with your mom and driving thirty minutes somewhere became a daily ritual.
9. In fact, driving everywhere, at all times, was the only option. No public transport (except the crappy, slow, unreliable buses), and nothing within walking distance. Everyone drove everywhere, and your car defined a lot about you as a teenager.
10. “Getting out” was seen as such a big deal when college came around that the idea of not getting into any schools and being stuck in the small town was pretty much the worst thing you could imagine. Even if no one said anything, no one wanted to be the one left behind.
11. The people who are still there are setting up families. At 25 years old. Three streets over from where they grew up. And looking at their Facebook profiles stresses you out immensely.
12. You went to school with the same people from kindergarten onward, which meant that you didn’t ever have to make new friends, but it also meant that your worldview and surroundings didn’t really change for 12 years, unless a new kid came in from a few towns over.
13. Even though you got to play outside a lot, after a while, you got pretty bored with the amount of things there were to do as a kid. A lot of your summers were spent sitting outside in front of the sprinkler, waiting to be let inside so you could watch TV.
14. School field trips to even small cities were like trips to another country.
15. When you finally left the town, there were so many things about life you had taken for granted — like everyone in your town knowing each other. Yeah, even at small colleges, that isn’t the case.
16. Today, people are constantly telling you how great it was that you got to grow up in a small town, to get that “experience,” as though you can’t have a childhood anywhere else. When they say this to you, you don’t know how to respond, so you mostly just nod and smile.
17. If you’re being honest with yourself, you enjoy going back every now and again, but one of the best parts of visiting is knowing that, at the end of the week or so, you get to go back to your real life in a place that you chose.