Saturday, August 22, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again (and why would you want to?)

Kate and I used to joke about "taking the geographical route" out of a problem. In other words, just leave. And while it seems awfully cowardly, sometimes it really is the best option. Sometimes it's best to fly instead of fight.

Take, for instance, the town where I was born and raised. Let's call it...Shermer. No, it's not a fictional town in Illinois, but it's both a bit of a stage set (cardboard castles, you see) and the kind of place where John Hughes storylines actually happened. I'm sure I've noted it before on here, but the high school I attended was the kind of place where the Saabs and Audis in the parking lot most certainly did not belong to the teachers, where conspicuous consumption was a competitive sport, where teenage boys were as cruel and cold as James Spader's "Stef" in Pretty In Pink.

Anyway, I hate Shermer. I really do. It was a great place to be a kid in the 70s, wonderfully green and safe, a town where you could ride your bike for miles with your friends, exploring and playing elaborate pretend games for hours, returning home for dinner tired and content. But as a teenager, Shermer sucked. I suppose if you're the right kind of miserable adolescent, it doesn't matter where you are, it's all going to suck. But I do believe that Shermer, at least East Shermer (considered the rich end of town) where I was, was an especially crap corner of the globe.

I dreamed of getting out of there when I was young. The summer some friends of mine got to live at a cottage and get summer jobs in a fun lakeside town 3 hours away, I nearly died of envy. But I just never knew how to make an escape happen, so I bided my time until university when I could legitimately leave the dreaded Shermer. And, of course, wouldn't you know it, by the time I hit university, I was in my first serious relationship with a very nice young man...who lived in Shermer. So I spent all four years of university shuttling back and forth between school and my bloody hometown. And then after graduation when I had no money and fewer prospects (art history degree AND I graduated into a recession), the logical choice was to move back home, where, because of jobs and such, I ended staying throughout my 20s.

During that 5 year period between graduating from university and finally moving away from that benighted place, I just dealt with it. I had to! Not only was I living there but I was also working for a community arts organization where the fact that I was born and raised in Shermer was often to my advantage. I was so rooted in the blasted town it would have been impossible to fight it. If I'm honest with myself, I will admit that at that point, I'd likely convinced myself that it would be okay if I never got out.

And then! And then I had the opportunity to work for another arts organization in another city. Not too far away in terms of physical distance, unfortunately, but worlds away in every other way. Shermer's a bedroom community, the Hammer's a city in its own right, with a long history, diverse population, fascinating terrain (7 waterfalls in this city!), great art gallery, a university, and several massive steelworks that light up the night sky (Blake's "dark, satanic mills" comes to mind every time I look at them), and most importantly, NO ONE FROM SHERMER EVER MOVES HERE.

Except me, of course. Within months of taking the job I'd decided that the 20 minute commute was far too much time spent on the road and I moved out of Shermer and into the lovely Hammer. And I began to breathe. And unclench the muscles I'd unknowingly kept in rictus since entering adolescence in Shermer. Life became an entirely different thing than I'd known before. And then I bought my house and life was so sweet it was almost unbearable. And then I met my husband and I pretty much believed I was living the earthly version of heaven. And all of it happened after I left that bloody town. Choosing flight over fight was the only possible route to becoming the adult version of me.

And how do I know this? I know this because whenever I have to spend time in Shermer, all those muscles clench up and I suddenly revert to some miserable ghost, this person I used to be and am not now. It's like I'm Sybil and just being there brings out some alternate personality. Invariably, visits to Shermer -- specifically visits where any significant amount of time is spent NOT at my parents' house -- will render me mute and I drive home in a melancholic funk that dissipates completely about 10 minutes after I get home to the Hammer.

Yet, I keep having to go back. Over the past year or so there's been a number of reunionesque events, official and otherwise, and I keep attending them even though they make me wretched. The problem is that there's a number of people from my past who I actually enjoy the idea of knowing again, so I'm always torn between my desire to see them again and the pure loathing for the venue of choice which is always in bloody Shermer, a geographical location practically designed to bring out the worst in me.

Hopefully the destructive, magnetic pull of the dreaded Shermer will take a few months' hiatus and I can just enjoy my self here in our little cottage in the Hammer, with the husband and the dog and the cat and our books and our lives together. Of course, the Christmas season and its attendant visiting is coming, but with the 300 bottles of wine in this house, hopefully I'll be able to deal with that.

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