What does that mean? I used to think it was a place, somewhere familiar and known, somewhere I knew like the back of my palm – the place where I grew up. But recently, the place where I grew up has started to feel more and more foreign, my old haunts dredging up nostalgia that sits at the back of my throat. I don’t feel like I belong there anymore, I’m like a tourist visiting the sites of old memories. Here is the place I went to school, here is the place where I had my first kiss, here is the place I watched the river for hours, trying to calm my soul.
It means the place you’re from, but more than that – it is the town that you call home. My hometown doesn’t feel like home anymore. When I drive through the streets, I see everything that I left behind and each return feels like a regression, a return to a past life that I’m disconnected from.
I was thinking this today when I was back for a wedding. I was in the town that raised me, saw me slowly morph into the person I am today, the town that homed me for so long. I saw old friends who had stayed and remembered the friendship we had once, which is so different now, and the distance between us. I guess this is what happens when you leave a place and settle in another. You have to redefine what home means.
The place that I once was so fond of, and proud to be from, holds nothing for me now. At least, for this time in my life.
Today, after the ceremony and catching up with old friends, I had a little bit of time to kill before the reception. Growing up there, I always loved going down to the river and reading or writing or, mostly, just watching the water currents. It’s muscle memory that takes me there, I drive without a destination in mind. I parked, and walked to where I used to go with my first boyfriend after school.
I found the rocks where we used to sit and watch the river from, talking about things that teenagers talk about, remembering the excitement of that first relationship and the rich potential of what could be. I sat there like we used to do and watched the river for a while.
When we broke up, he said that I was naive about relationships and love. I think I still am, twelve years later. Maybe the disconnect with my hometown comes from being reminded of a younger version of myself, and how I’ve failed her in where I am in life now. I thought that by my twenties, I would know myself, know others, and know love. But I don’t know any of that, and that’s the only thing I know. Maybe hometown doesn’t feel like home anymore because I’m not comfortable there, always confronted with who I was, who I thought I would become, and the reality of who I am.
At least in my new city, I don’t have that history to bargain with. I don’t have to justify the present me with the past me. There’s a freedom that comes from breaking away from the past.
But isn’t that just running away? The past is still there. I can’t actually be free from it. I have to face the fifteen year old me and tell her that life doesn’t work out the way you think it will, that there will be times of deep sadness that will elbow its way out of you in silent cries, but that there will also be times of intense joy that leave your abs sore from laughing so much. That you won’t have the experiences you hoped for, but that there will be experiences so beautiful and wonderful that you couldn’t have imagined or hoped for them. Yeah, I think that’s what she needs to hear.