I grew up in a small town where everyone was familiar, if not related. My family and I had moved there when I was in fifth grade and I was still considered “the new kid” in high school. It was the sort of place where someone in a pickup truck would slow down and yell out the window, “Leslie John, your father is going to hear about this!” when they saw that I was up to no good. There were no strangers. There was no anonymity. Also, no forgiveness, I felt. It was like going through life with my resume stapled to my forehead, if my resume included every stupid decision I’d ever made along with my typing speed.
I reveled in the obscurity that came with college and the bigger towns I chose to live in after I left home. I didn’t mind being nameless and unknown. I found comfort in the crowd where there’s nothing remarkable about being poor, or a preacher’s kid, or from a crazy family. I could find community among people who shared the circumstances I was ostracized for in my tiny hometown. I had the room to be me, or at least to try to figure out who that was. And that felt so good, I never thought I’d go back to small town living.
But here I am, once again, in a small town.
For the first few years we lived here, I stayed under the radar as we traveled to the next town for most of our shopping and entertainment, and even Julia’s preschool. Now that she’s in Kindergarten and I’m teaching Kindermusik, there’s no more hiding. We exist in our town. It’s on the record now. And people notice if I go to the IGA in my pajamas. Dave finds this appealing. He says, “It’s friendly,” looking like he just wrapped himself up in a snuggly blanket. He’s kicked off his shoes off and started cozying up to this place. I’m feeling awkward and fidgety and like I can’t breathe. I want to put curtains up in the windows I used to insist be uncovered so the light could pour in through them. I’m thinking the fact that the old house hasn’t sold is a sign to move back into it.
No one is with me on that one.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with this place or any place, really. The truth is, I can’t shake this underlying belief that it’s just a matter of time before anyone that gets to know me will find something about me that sends them running in the other direction; that it’s just a matter of time before I am left alone; that it’s just a matter of time before they decide I’m just not worth caring about. I think I’m just trying to beat them to the punch.