24 February 2014

Can We Go Home Again?

I was talking to a Twitter friend on Monday night who happens to live near the small town where I grew up. She lamented the lack off opportunities in the area and the lack of culture as some of the reasons that she wants out of there. I completely sympathize and understand what she is talking about. It leads me to think about the old adage that "You Can't Go Home Again".

I grew up in a small town in Western Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio River. Growing up, I thought it was the best place in the world because my field of comparison was so limited. As I entered high school, thoughts of my future began to stretch the ties that bound me to my hometown. I wanted to go to college, that was also a dream of my parents. They had always tried to instill in me a Love of Life and everyone in it. I was taught to grow and explore the world and to reach my own conclusions about it. My parents had the misfortune of not being from a family that could count the generations of dead in the local cemeteries since my Dad had arrived there as part of his job with the railroad. Therefore, we were always "outsiders" to some degree. That depended on the people making the judgement and as I grew older, I came to realize that those judgements were based on how much control it allowed them to have over those that they judged. My parents were both fiercely independent, and transferred that on to me. This made us apparently rather destined to remain outsiders in that small town.

I went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington after high school and my eyes were opened to the bigger world. Lexington might seem like something of a backwater town, but by Kentucky standards, it is downright liberal! I determined while I was in college that I was not going back to my hometown for any length of time. I decided that my future existed in places that I had not even dreamed of visiting at that time. I joined the Navy and saw parts of the world that most of my high school classmates could only dream of. I lived all over the US during those years and my horizons never ceased to expand with each new day.

I left the Navy when my Mom became very ill. She died within a few weeks and since my Dad had died while I was in high school, I knew that my ties with my hometown were irrevocably broken. The last time I visited there was in 2001, a few months after I had settled affairs and sold the house and the other necessary things. I had to take a break and get away from the atmosphere in order to breathe again. About 6 months later, I returned to my hometown with my partner, who had also been there at the end with my Mom, and I found that the people I had grown up with were nothing like that now. I realize that I have changed more than they have, but the friendships were no longer there. The only people from my class that I can relate to are the others who managed to escape the small-town trap.

I still have some extended family there in my hometown, but we aren't close at all anymore. I am seen as the Black Sheep because I am Gay and I have been all over the world and I am happy with my life. Apparently, these are the things that I should never have succeeded at, and that means that my very existence has to be erased rather than allow me to remain a part of the place at all. Initially, this was something painful to me. Then I remembered something that my Dad had told me years ago. "We are all outsiders here" he said, "And that makes us dangerous to these people. They cannot understand us, and that means that they cannot control us. Remember that and never let them take it away from you." My Dad was a wise man.

I live and learn every day, the pain at being almost excluded from my hometown faded rapidly. It was only the conversation with my Twitter friend that brought all this up in my mind right now. I understand how she feels about leaving, but I encouraged her to do so because I also understood the awful certainties if she chose to stay.

I do envy those who have somewhat happier backgrounds, but mine is what it is, and not the bad background of a dysfunctional family. Mine comes from the smallness and intolerance of those I grew up with and also the triumph that I feel for never giving in to the lowered expectations that they still live by.

I know that in my personal case, I Can't Go Home Again.