I couldn’t imagine living in the town I grew up in today as the adult I am now. The very thought of it is so foreign to me, that it’s easily as laughable as me moving to Tibet, shaving my head and joining a Buddhist monastery. Actually the latter is far more plausible than the concept of moving back to the old “hometown.”
I have trouble formulating an acceptable response when people ask me where I’m from. When they’re asking, I have to determine whether or not they’re trying to figure out where I live now (as in my address, or at least how far away my drive is from wherever it is I am at that moment), or if they’re indeed asking where I was born and/or grew up. And, although, to ask the latter would warrant at least a two or three city explanation of where exactly those locations are (because very few people outside of that area actually know where it is), I tend to give the general vicinity of the state where I grew up rather than the town name itself.
Truth be told, the name of the town alone was considered a four-letter word in my home growing up. My mother, a self-proclaimed New Yorker, refused to let any of her children associate with the town where we were legitimately born and/or raised, insisting instead that we too were also New Yorkers, when in truth we had never spent more than a week or two there our entire lives. As if we didn’t have enough trouble blending in to a small town with very set ways and an unsavory view of “Auslanders” (outsiders), being brainwashed with this type of “I’m better than this shit town” attitude did us no favors.
Before long, the few opportunities we had to make good impressions on the “locals” were blown by either our own doing or our mother’s demonstrative disgust with the entire ‘burg, and we had successfully rooted ourselves on the bottom rung of the social ladder. Having few friends and many, many enemies made for a very difficult adolescence, to say the least. But, considering all the strikes I had against me, I’m happy that I was able to at least graduate, move away and begin a new life somewhere else. Not that I didn’t have all the scars of my broken toy status that I was carried from my hometown perspective, but with the fresh outlook of new people who didn’t know how I was tormented and didn’t see me simply as the summation of all my childhood’s awkward moments, I was able to move on, be happy even.
While my interactions with the few people I know from my hometown are limited to people I genuinely like and enjoy, there comes the rare but almost inevitable run-in with individuals who are not as forgiving. In my day to day job, I run into a fair amount of new doctors, medical students and fellows who are working their way through their very expensive and worthy education at our hospital. So, as the foreshadowing would lead you to believe, dear reader, I have indeed run into one of the people I know from “back home.”
This person, who I didn’t really know well, ran with a crowd of bullies who enjoyed making my life miserable. While he never really participated, or at least not with the venom that I so strongly recall from others, his presence in the area is an uncomfortable reminder of how I struggled so much to deal with the social life that I was subject to in school. I wonder now how I ever was able to force myself to get up and go there every single day, knowing the inevitable barrage of insults and bullying that would ensue.
I saw him on the floor of the suite where I work, speaking to a colleague in another department. He did not recognize me, or at least pretended not to recognize me. After an awkward re-introduction and half-hug of greeting, he mentioned grabbing a drink to catch up. Although I told him I could be found on work email, I figured it was just a mere social convention to end the conversation and move on. My suspicions were correct, and honestly, I’m not sure what I could have contributed to an awkward happy hour that wouldn’t have left a very strange situation that much weirder.
I was much happier to plod along with my life without reminders of my small town upbringing. Perhaps he was too. Or, perhaps he participated more than I was aware in the negativity that so strongly affected me, and felt badly about it. Perhaps seeing that hometown girl all grown up into a regular person, a professional with a job, a marriage to a great guy, a home and a life that I’m pretty damn proud of. The awkward kid grew up into an awkward adult, sure, but she’s also an interesting person, with hobbies, life travels and good friends who would never do something so horrible as call her hideous or a dog. Perhaps, that’s why he avoided me, that seeing the face of indelible resiliency is harder to swallow, and that without the cool kids to back him up, he’s just another small town coward.