There is a definition that clings to you, placed there by the place that you come from; those first cigarettes that you smoked behind your small town’s gas station, those first kisses in backseats behind your old middle school, beers on back roads that you had memorized like the lyrics to bad hardcore songs. These are the details that defined you more than school grades, and more than the books that you read and stole from some small, old brick walled public library.
The things that you loved about where you’re from grew into strengths that you stitched to your jean jackets like badges of honour. And the things that you hated, and the places that you loathed, and the people that broke your heart, you used them as reasons to leave; purpose for hitting the road and not looking back for anything.
Where you’re from comes up at parties, and it’s always a quick answer, but your mind moves back after the conversation moves on, and suddenly you’re back laying in the fields out behind the ball diamonds, watching the oil paintings made by the clouds mixing with the trails of exhaust from the nearby natural gas plant. You think of the houses you lived in, your old bedroom ceilings, and the empty beer bottles on the porch railing being filled with rainwater after the adults forgot to bring them in.
You might just go back one day; dive into that that sepia pool of old family photos and bad yearbook quotes. There’s something that stops you though; your desire to leave it all behind in the first place, or it could be someone who still lives back there in the depths of all that memory, and the idea of heading back down those dirt roads to where they lie in wait, scares the fuck out of you.
So where you’re from remains nothing but a party answer. Because the courage to pack up and leave is a different sort than the courage it takes to go back.
You keep to certain memories most of the time; the wood floors of the community centre grooved deep with the boot kicks of bad kids at good gigs, days of perfect temperature and perfectly rolled joints, and easy first loves where everything was pop song perfection, before life got its chance to butt in on your slow dances and tell you that everything was going to go wrong. Keep those memories safe; they’re the best parts of where you’re from.
Then it happens somewhere on the way back home from a road trip; you hit a familiar exit looking for a gas station and a cup of coffee, and you’re right back there in your old town without trying to get there. The place smells the same, and the air is the same air you breathed from the days of elementary school playground bliss to high school horniness. You fill your car up, stretch out, go inside to pay, and end up buying a pack of those old cheap cigarettes you used to smoke back when you thought it made you look cool.
Not that you ever looked cool.
You’re tired from the road, so you decide to stick around for a night. What could it hurt to see the old streets? To see what buildings were torn down and replaced with bullshit chain restaurants? Hell, it could even be cathartic to cruise through a vivid update of your life’s formative places. Eventually you end up at the bar you used to think about sneaking into before you were of legal age. With the night’s first drinks, you’re back at your life’s first serious tastes of beer, and your first tentative sips of the harder stuff that you only stomached in an attempt to fit in with the town drunks that no one should have ever wanted to emulate.
That’s when you run into them; the people that you left behind. The people from where you’re from. They’re all still here, with their hands clinging to dirty beer mugs, and their bodies looking like they went 12 long rounds with a hard labor job. When you last saw them, they were all clutching grad caps and nubile sweethearts. Now they’re divorced and drinking about it. They ask you how you’re doing and where you’re living at now, and you want to tell them, but another part of you wants to keep everything about your new life a secret, lest it was some kind of anomaly that you managed to escape this place, and revealing too much information about where you are now could allow these decaying spectres of old shit-dead dreams to follow you there.
So you keep it vague, drink your drink, and thank everything in your heart that let you make the choices that got you away from here.
Hours later, you stumble out into the parking lot and give a long look down a street that you’ve looked down thousands of times. The streetlights cast their cones of light down onto gutters filled with empty beer cans and plastic bags. You have nightmares about this later, when you’re back home, that everything good that’s happened in your life was a vivid euphoric dream, and that you’re still back there in that town, in that parking lot, alone, buzzed, and your throat hoarse from cheap smokes.
Luckily, you always wake up in your bed in a different city, far away and safe. You kick the covers off, hop out of bed and go and make yourself a cup of coffee. You watch the sun start to come up, and are endlessly happy that where you are, is not where you’re from.