“There is not enough hot water in the world to wash off my childhood.”

The above quote was spoken by me, in a very un-ironic tone last week. Probably the most emo moment of my life. 

Mitch and I had just driven to B-town for a little sight-seeing– little being the optimum word. Back in my day, my hometown had six stop lights, and they were all pretty pointless. When crossing Main Street, you might die of boredom waiting for a car to drive by and threaten you. 

Internet, I am moving. When we got home from our visit to my hometown, we were greeted with 26 50-gallon plastic bins full of everything we’ve accumulated in the last 5 years of cohabitation. Mitch has been hired by a new company in northern Minnesota, and he starts on Monday. This is real life people. This is happening. 

As excited as I am, I’ve been oddly emotional about the move. I suppose that I should be realistic about things and just accept the fact that I’ve lived within 45 minutes of the place where I was born for my entire life. The nooks and crannies of my mind are filled with memories of home. 

Mitch drove me home, and my friend McKayla came with us and entertained Maren in the backseat. They patiently listened to all the stories from all my ‘back in the days’ that they’ve heard a hundred times, and asked questions when I got quiet. They wouldn’t let me apologize for being boring– they insisted that they wanted to hear all the stories.

When people ask me, I tell them I had a great childhood, and it isn’t really a lie. I’m not one of those people who carries around a lot of regret for the way things were. But when I start to really examine ‘the way things were’…. to be honest, I think that the Universe could have done a little better. 

It needs to be said, it really does. When you grow up in a small town, the most dangerous thing to be is different. You spend so much time wandering around, wishing that someone would see something in you that they recognize. And when they don’t, you try to make things up that maybe YOU can recognize in someone else. Adolescents are nothing if not malleable. 

But the human spirit is not so flexible, and it will always give you away. And people knew that I was a phony– people knew I was faking it. I was just different, and I wasn’t mature enough to know that it was okay. And I didn’t have many people recognizing that I was floundering, that I was drowning. I let people walk all over me, and people blamed me for the way I was treated. All I wanted– desperately, desperately wanted– was to feel like I was home

I wouldn’t say that I have a hole inside me, created by the way I grew up. But I do have some broken places. 

Mitch asked me if I wanted to visit the cemetery, and I said no. But he pointed the car through the gates even so, knowing that I really just didn’t want to be sad.

I am not the kind of person who feels like they have to visit a cemetery in order to remember someone. I don’t feel like the souls of our loved ones are hanging out by their gravestone, just waiting for someone like me to come along. But I do think that when you love someone and lose them, a piece of yourself is just stuck there. So when I stood at the headstone of a friend who’d died suddenly in a car accident 12 years ago, I’ll be honest– I wasn’t really thinking about him the whole time. I mean, at first I was– of course– I was wondering who he’d be today. He’d be in his thirties, he’d have a wife, probably kids, he’d have a job and hobbies and all kinds of things. I thought about that, but behind it all, I was thinking about an awkward 14 year old who shyly sat next to him at the sub shop downtown, frantically smoothing her long blonde hair as he divided his meatball sub and gave me half. It was one of those moments that a girl dreams about for weeks– the first time a boy looks at her and smiles and she wonders– Is he really smiling at me? 

That was the summer of 1999, and by the end of that summer, he was gone. It’s been over ten years, and I still remember the pit in my stomach as I ate that sandwich, praying I wouldn’t get sauce on my lip, praying I could think of something to say if he asked me a question. 

His was not the only grave I visited that day. And there was also a sick, sinking feeling when I realized there was a grave I couldn’t find, so instead I had to close my eyes in the cold and blink back tears as I thought of one of the first truly decent human beings I’d ever met in my life. 

Because we only have one life, there’s no way to know what would have been if things had turned out differently. But I can say this for the Universe- we get what we need. Who knows who I would be today, if I didn’t grow up in that town, have those experiences, met those people, love some and lose some… for better or for worse– I am my childhood. 

In one of my favorite books, The Giver, the town council holds a coming-of-age ceremony where they give adolescents a job assignment and then thank them for their childhood– for their contribution to the community. I don’t know if I contributed anything to my hometown. I don’t really care if I did or not. I don’t miss it there– not one bit. There’s a part of me that can’t pack my bags fast enough– and another part of me that mourns that Maren won’t remember it. It won’t be a place where I have memories of my own, she has memories of her own, and we have shared memories– like it is for my parents and I. It will be a foggy, make-believe place, and all my stories will seem like myths to her.

When we drove out of town that day, I was pretty quiet. It’s scary to me to go somewhere new, after spending the last decade carving out a place for myself here. But because I know what it was like to be different, to be alone, to be scared, and to make huge, awful mistakes– I also know what it is to be brilliant, to be resilient, to become fearless, and to march defiantly into your dreams, and make no apologies. 

For better or for worse, I am what I am because of my childhood. So, thank you, Blair, for my childhood.

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