I’m writing this from a hotel room in a town I used to call home for nearly ten years. I’ve been in town all day, and in between going to some writing craft and business sessions and getting a few pages of my manuscript looked at by a guy who writes books featuring FREELANCE BALLISTICS EXPERTS OK WHY NOT (he liked it), I’ve been seeing the sights, such as they are. Stations of the cross, I keep thinking, because that’s what it feels like (to a girl who grew up outside of any religious context whatsoever—I learned there was a thing called religion, I kid you not, from reading a Judy Blume book. I should have been asked to be in this book, right?).
Stations of the Former Hometown Cross include my old apartment downtown, the best apartment in all of the world if only it had had a washer/dryer. It did not. I lived there five years anyway. Also, old apartment building of best friend. (Kim, if you thought that building had a roach problem before…it’s boarded up now. One can only imagine.) Also, the movie theatre where we used to work (torn down!). And the mall we used to go to waste time (new movie theatre!). Also, the little mini-town area of campus and campus itself. Campus seems to be on freaking STEROIDS, baby, while the little mini-town, where I used to use the ATM and get out $10 at a time, where I used to have many a damn good time, is a barren wasteland. Only bars and the after-bar food stuffs required for student living these days. It was pretty disheartening, actually. I feel like a white-haired matron (SHUT. UP.) toddling around, rending my clothes at all the things that are gone since In My Day. But seriously. I was only here eight years ago, long after most of my friends had graduated and gone away and, in a bold move I didn’t follow, not come back. Eight years, and this place is affected. The economy was already bad here, and now it is visibly worse.
Now that I’m back, I know why you’re not supposed to try it.
It’s not a matter of In My Day. Time marches on. The campus I’m lamenting isn’t the same one that was there ten years before me; someone else would have looked at the Village I used to visit woefully. It doesn’t have to do with stuff changing on you. I don’t live here. If someone who does live here can benefit from things being different, then who am I to say it was better in Ye Olde Days? You know what it has to do with? Pure vanity. We’re each of us in our own little world, and when things change when we turn our backs, it’s insulting to the state of the universe as we know it.
There’s also a part of me that misses the good times (good times every day—you could count on it) and here are a few more witnesses gone. Already gone: Mugly’s (although, Kate, there is a new place in the Village that purports to call itself Mugly’s. I believe you’d better meet me over there to show them where they are false lying liars), Headliner’s, my old University Relations office (the best office in the world, ever, despite how ugly and gross it really was and despite or perhaps because of it being a renovated bathroom), the Target that will always remind me of more than the price of Tide detergent. The restaurant where I had my first date with my now-husband. Gone.
I drove around all day feeling like, yeah, I could cry if I thought about it too much. Because it’s not just the buildings or the businesses that are gone. It’s the time.
This has all been really interesting research, actually, for the novel. I’m about to send my protagonist on a trip “home”—a home she ran away from and hasn’t been back to in thirteen years. I think I have a better feeling how that might go. I didn’t run from here, but I was so happy to leave this town when I did. But the interesting part is, as I’m driving around and giving it a look, I’m happy to get the chance to be here. Even places you can’t wait to leave have a way of imprinting themselves on you.