I’ve lived in the same town my entire life.
I’m one of those people who has always dreamed of faraway places where I’d one day like to live – New York City and some unknown small Southern town top the list (totally different, I know) – but I know they are merely dreams. When it comes down to it, I know I will never leave here. It’s not small minded-ness, it’s… home-ness. This place is home to me. The familiar streets I know by heart, the same stores I traipsed through as a teen, the family. The family… that’s the big one. Even when I’m just a town or two over, I feel a sense of relief washing over me any time I cross “town lines” and am firmly back here again.
Funny things tend to happen when you spend your whole life in the same place. Memories, nostalgia, an overcoming sense of “I’ve been here before,” can hit you like a ton of bricks at any given moment. Sometimes it’s bad, but mostly it’s good; I’ve lived a good life here, have so much joy to reminisce about. I pass by places where I grew up and my heart gets kind of heavy because I feel both sad and happy about eras gone by. High school, middle school, boyfriends, the best friends in the world, the worst friends in the world… I can never really get away from the past here, but it holds mostly good things.
Jerry and I took a couples cooking class last week and it was held at my old middle school, a huge three story building where I spent three years in grades 6-8, a jungle of freshly waxed tile and locker lined hallways where I used to get lost but then somehow found my way.
It had been more than 13 years since I last walked out of that building and graduated onto high school. I spent only three years of my life there, but it held so much and contained so many memories, and a lot of it came flooding back when I walked back in. It wasn’t a bad thing, nor was it a good thing. It was just sort of a… thing. An experience, if you will.
I remember being in fifth grade and chattering excitedly about moving up to sixth grade. It meant lockers! It meant switching classes! It meant writing a schedule! Along with the lockers came the colorful locker shelves, the magnetic baskets we’d hang on the sides, and hand picking photos to tape along the inside, faces that would greet me every day if I remembered my combination – that was a big fear at the start, and so were the many, many hallways I just knew I’d get lost in.
I found my way, though.
As it is for most pre-teens, middle school was an awkward time in my life, but it’s where I met my two best girls, the friends who are now my family. It was a mostly good time, a time that I look back on and sometimes even feel sad about because there are certain things I’ll always miss. That’s the thing about nostalgia – the happy memories can make you so damn happy, but they can also leave a tiny touch of sadness in their wake because the past is the past… gone forever.
So when I pulled up to that school and drove through the parking lot where I had my first kiss, and I pointed out the path to Jerry that my friends and I would take home, there were a lot of feelings. Mostly good, but maybe even a little sad.
“Did you ever have a class in this room?” Jerry asked, as we entered the home economics classroom with mini kitchenettes where we would be cooking that night.
I didn’t really have an answer for him. I didn’t remember at all. The school seemed so different, and as vivid as some of my memories from that time were, it all felt so distant, too. So far gone, so far away.
Maybe that’s the sad part.
“I’ve never been inside an indoor school before. This is weird,” exclaimed my California grown husband.
“Did you take all of your classes inside?” Jerry looked incredulous as I told him that yes, we did in fact spend all day inside.
“Sometimes we would have gym class outside though,” I remembered out loud. “Those were the stairs we came down.” I pointed to the doors I remember us bursting through on sunny days when we’d head to the fields out back for some sport or activity I was bound to hate.
“It looks so different in here. I don’t remember much of this at all.”
We left that night and I drove through the loop in front. That part, I remembered. I flash back to a picture I have memorized in my head: it’s a group of us girls, all dressed up, flower stems dangling in our mouths and hands right after our eighth grade moving up ceremony. We’re posing on the stairs at the loop, grinning wide, excited to be almost high schoolers. Some of those girls are still my best friends. Some of them, I hardly even know anymore. For a short little while, we were the center of each other’s worlds, and now we’re worlds apart. Life changes and people move on, but for a short time, we shared something that was one and the same.
Maybe that’s the sad part, too.
“We used to stand on these stairs and wait for our rides. Or sometimes we’d walk home instead, right down that way,” I pointed out.
And as we drove away, I slowly returned to reality the further we got from the school. For just a little while, it felt like I was in a time capsule of sorts, remembering the past and watching it collide with my present. When I was eleven and starting my first day of middle school, did I ever think I would walk these same halls in 16 years with my husband? My husband who lived 3,000 miles away at the time? Did I think I would leave those halls and go home to a baby boy I hadn’t even dreamed of yet?
Life has a funny way of bringing you to places and to people you never could have expected.
But life also has a funny way of bringing you right back home again, too.