Losing My Hometown and Myself

My parents no longer live in the house that I grew up in, having sold and moved into a smaller house several years ago. The Abraham Lincoln School, my school for K through 6, no longer exists although the building still stands next door to the first building I remember living in, where my parents rented an apartment. My junior high school (grades 7-9) and my high school (10-12) now house grades 3-8, and a new high school was built near the vocational/technical center, financed by a bond issue that was repeatedly voted down while I was in high school.

The corner stores which were once never more than a few blocks are almost all gone, victims of the economy and gas station convenience stores and new and bigger supermarkets and Wal-Mart. The excellent downtown bookstore has been gone for a long time, as have the various regional and national department stores of my youth and most of the clothing stores, again victims of the economy as well as the rise of the internet. The old mall was changed into a strip mall anchored by an often-empty Home Depot and the new mall lost two of its three anchors and now features only a sub-standard K-Mart and a lot of stores that look temporary.

I started thinking about this after visiting my parents over the weekend. What was intended to be a visit of a few days in which I spent a bunch of time with my parents as well as some friends instead turned into me confined to bed for 36 hours due to flu-like symptoms which began on the drive up. On Saturday night I turned and turned, not able to escape a dream loop or think of something comforting to calm my mind. I tried to remember things I would think of when I was growing up, things that would comfort me when I couldn’t relax but it occurred to me that this was no longer the bigger house I grew up in, and my youthful dreams and hopes and fears were locked in a bigger house about a mile away that no longer looked like the house I grew up in.

My therapist helped me realize that most of my feelings of my hometown are about loss, but more than that they are about how it is both impossible to retrieve those things and impossible to change any of the effects of what happened in the past.

The first part is true. My hometown will never again be the place in which I grew up and I don’t wish or want it to be. I enjoyed my childhood, or at least that how I remember it now. My hometown was small and slow and a little backward and boring, but so was I. It seemed safe in the way that lots of places seemed safe pre-internet. I had good friends and good teachers and good family. It’s true that my parents made mistakes but that only makes them exactly like all other parents.

The second part is not true, or at least I hope it’s not. My parents made mistakes and I adapted my personality and worldview to account for their mistakes and in some ways that has made my life more difficult than it had to be. It has also made me angry with them, and made it strange to love them at the same time. I have felt broken, like I will never be able to enjoy my life the way that I should, that I will always be limited by my adaptation and worldview, that I will always be that uncertain boy trying to sleep in that bigger house.

I don’t want to be broken, to be that boy, to be the type of person who struggles in life and blames his parents for being human. I want to go to my hometown and register the changes and remember how things used to be. I want to love my parents and forgive them for making mistakes. I want to know that the past does not control the present or the future.

When I was growing up I was sometimes comforted in the idea that there was so much time left, so much time to change, that I just had to endure because eventually I would no longer have to. Now I’m in my mid-forties and it feels like I’m running out of time, especially when I look at my parents who seem to have aged twenty years in the last few. It makes me feel like there isn’t any more time.

I have to remind myself, as Amy Jellicoe said, there is time. I believe there is so much time. I believe that I can write this without fear of being proven wrong. That uncertain boy can be the same as that my schools and those stores and that house, clear in my memories but no longer in existence.

Tell me what you think. Thanks.