my relationship with my hometown is complicated.
it has morphed from love/hating it during high school, missing it through freshman year of college, relearning why i hated it that summer to a weird kind of embarrassment/shame about where i was from mixed with homesickness throughout the rest of my college career.
it is small. tucked between the metro parks and corn fields in southwestern ohio. about 10 minutes away from where the infamous jd vance grew up and would later write his biopic hillbilly elegy about. it is a different world in many ways than the surrounding towns and suburbs. it is very white, very conservative and very religious. it is pockmarked with farms ranging from a few chickens and goats to hundreds of acres of beans and corn.
i grew up slow out there. active in 4-h, girl scouts and running through fields after which my mom would patiently comb through my long hair looking for ticks. we raised rabbits, chickens, turkeys, goats and one horse. through my childhood bedroom window i could see what i thought were big city lights flickering in the dark. they were actually just cell towers from the next town over but i used to watch them at night and dream of heading straight for those lights and not stopping til i hit subway lines and skyscrapers and all the things i thought existed right outside my bubble. repunzel wants out of her tower, ariel wants out of the sea, and i was born wanting out of my hometown.
when i graduated from high school, i moved to a city. not a giant one; there’s no subway and there’s just a few low level skyscrapers. i remember when i first moved how loud and overwhelming and heavy the air felt. i was used to big, big skies.
i remember being 18 and having experienced so little in comparison to my new friends. i’m 22 now and i still haven’t done a lot. but i traveled to 16 countries and tried a lot of things and ate Indian food for the first time.
but i will tell you that a lifetime of small town is not undone so easily. i still seek out small communties, no matter where in the world i am at. i still love bonfires and the buzz of friday night lights. all of the the things that i ran from became beautiful in different lighting. there are things that are different out here. they are the same things that i found in rural spaces all over the world. home and community and gossip and god and small talk and no fear of dirt. i can’t call it much more than a feeling. and while i probably won’t ever move back out to a farm, i still sit in the grass. i still go to sleep in my city and dream about moving to a bigger one one day. i still know that people are good, even when their political opinions are not. i still know that nothing brings people together like new death or new life or a barn dance.
i don’t know how to explain the contradiction that i feel when i think about that place. i know that so much of who i am is because of my hometown. i also know i fundamentally am different than so much of my hometown. and that i will never be happy in smallness again.
are we who we are because of where we are from? or despite it?
for me, i think it is both. it is magic and it is madness and i like to believe i inherited it all. we don’t get to decide where we are from. we just get to decide where the heck we go.