“Once I leave this town, I’m never coming back.”
I don’t remember the exact moment I made that statement, and there’s a good reason for that. I’ve said this or some version of this several times over, in reference to my hometown of Reading, Massachusetts. Years back, we were in the process of selling my childhood home, and the way I saw it, once the house sold and we were free and clear to leave, I wasn’t going to look back. I wasn’t going to visit. I wasn’t even going to stop for a bagel sandwich if I was in the area. I was certain that it would just be too painful. I was certain that there was nothing there for me.
When I left, my morale was at an all-time low. I’d just gone through a catastrophic life event, and after so many highs and lows; I was ready to leave forever. Break off the rearview mirror, I wasn’t going to need it. I wanted to get as far away from Reading as possible. Why go back? I thought about people who grow up there, who go to high school there, who go to a local college and then buy a house there. The thought of that was nauseating, although I can’t help but realize how biased I was, how miserable I was, and I was truly miserable. I wanted to put as much distance between my hometown and myself as possible. After all, I had plans to travel, and I didn’t see my hometown fitting into said plans. It wouldn’t be a stop on my world tour.
I believed my statement when I made it, that I’d never be back, and yet I’ve spent the last few years absolutely obliterating it. Sure, we did move out of the house and the town, but I’ve come back so many times. In fact, I even like going there.
I’ve come back to the town I swore to leave behind. I’ve come back, I’ve visited, and yes, I’ve eaten countless bagel sandwiches. I made that statement under the assumption that each visit would bring with it an avalanche of pain that would be too much for me to take, but I don’t even think about it. I’ve been back numerous times to visit with friends and family. More than once, I’ve completed the loop my father and I used to cruise when he was teaching me how to drive. I’ve even brought my car to the same mechanic I did when I was younger (A good one is so hard to find. The fact that mine looks like Super Mario only makes it better). I told myself I wouldn’t come back, and yet the pain I thought I’d feel is conspicuously absent.
I’ve even been back to the house. There’s no pain there waiting for me, just a strange aura. It looks very similar in a lot of ways, and to the untrained eye, or to those who have something better to do than study the changes of house, it might even look the same. The structure is still there. There’s still a basketball hoop. There’s still the same grassy hill adjacent to the driveway where we used to go sledding as kids, and a backyard where I used to play when I was younger. It’s weird knowing that someone else lives there, but that strangeness is the only thing I really feel, aside from the vague hint of nostalgia. Sure, someone else is living in the house I used to live in, and is making their own memories, but all I can think about is how that’s normal, and about how weird it is that it doesn’t really bother me. I don’t have the house anymore, but I have the memories I made in it.
I’ve been thinking about proclamations I’ve made. I said I’d never come back to my hometown, I said I don’t want to go back to school, I said I won’t write about my life, among others. I believed in each of these statements when I made them, but since then, I’ve gone back on them. I’ve decided that each proclamation made no sense, or that I wasn’t going to stay with it. I end up doing what I was so vehemently opposed to, to the point where I’m wondering if it’s even worth it to continue making these statements about how my life will go, or about the rules I’ll follow. I never seem to stick to them, and my life is better for it.
Maybe these proclamations were flawed from the start. Of course I was going to have to go back to my hometown. For a while, my friends or their parents still lived there. For nine months after I moved home from New York, I even lived there, and I spent many amazing afternoons in the streets and on the sidewalks training for the race of my life. Despite the fact that I ran the same familiar loops over and over again, I enjoyed every single run. Reading is a truly beautiful place during the spring and the summer, and it offers miles and miles of places to run.
The town has changed, as I’ve changed, and maybe that’s why it’s easier to return. It’s hard to miss your high school when they’ve demolished and rebuilt the entire thing. Sure, the town still stands much as it was, but there’s new people living there, and many new businesses and houses. Thankfully, not everything is different. They still put holiday lights up on the trees of Reading Center, and I’ve always loved that. I hope they never stop doing it.
Maybe these proclamations were another attempt to control my world, to put in place restrictions that would narrow my choices. I’m chronically indecisive, so having my options narrowed helps me, or at least I think it does. The evidence to the contrary is stacking up.
I’m glad that I’ve allowed myself the freedom to go back on these proclamations, and not to let them dictate what I do and do not do. Sometimes I need to get out of my own way. I’m trying to let myself become who I’m going to become, and in my experience that’s something you can’t force. It has to happen organically. You have to let yourself flow, not limit the options you can choose from, even if you’ve already chosen them once before.
Proclamations are a funny thing. It’s like calling your shot, and you hope that you stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll feel stupid, but maybe the proclamation itself was inane, and you just have to let your life go where it’s going to go. I think I’m done for the time making proclamations, and I’ll just let myself be myself. I won’t look at it as a sign of weakness that I revisit my hometown, although I hope I don’t end up living there. It’s a lovely place to live, but I’d like to explore other parts of the country. It’s a big wide world out there, but I’ll probably buy a house there in the next ten years. Thanks for reading.