On a recent visit, I looked around the place I grew up and wondered how I would describe the experience of growing up there, or going back to visit, to someone who never had the benefit of the experience.
Maybe you grew up in a city, or hell, even just a town someone has heard of. Any person who had no more than a casual exposure to American sit-coms has an idea what your life was all about.
I didn't grow up there--or anywhere near there. I grew up in a place remote enough that even people who grew up in the same State as me have to be educated as to where that little town is because it's 100 miles from anywhere they've heard of, too.
I left that place. I didn't get pissed and say, "Fuck this, I'm out," or anything like that. I went away to school, liked what I saw, and stayed gone.
I've been gone ever since.
I make little trips back, see all the people who were kind to me, and then I leave again, wanting to bring the people I love back with me to a place I perceive to be better than the place they are.
They would probably be as uncomfortable here as I was there.
There is still a certain Wild West feeling out in Western North Dakota, and not just with the craziness of the oil boom. The sense of "what's right and what's wrong" is carved in the guts of so many people there, and they react to things in the only way that makes sense to them.
A friend of mine back in my home town had one of her children experience a fatal run in with some bad, bad, people. Her reaction to that was to pull a Curt-Russell-in-Tombstone style of confrontation with some of the lower level bad dudes, telling them to let their bosses know that they just kicked a hornet's nest.
Where I live now? That shit would get you arrested. It doesn't matter that the dude was responsible for the death of your kid--you harass them, and cops put out the closest and most obvious fire. If you're the one who is agitated when they arrive, you're the one that's going in the back of their car.
This weekend someone who lives in North Dakota called me "brave" because I drove them safely through holiday weekend traffic at Mall of America without flinching.
One the courage scale where the high end is "Face to Face Confrontation With Drug Dealers," I can assure you that the opposite end is "Driving to the Mall."
I wonder how soft I've become, having lived away from there for so long, or, if I moved away because I never really had what it takes to make it in a rough and tumble environment.
I assume the latter. I'm a chicken-shit.
Well...maybe less chicken-shit than I think.
Ultimately, it's was through a series of confrontations here in the city that went badly for me that I lost whatever nerve I had. I approached things with my gut sensibilities when a more sophisticated approach was called for. You can take that to mean I was hoodwinked by someone better at bullshitting than me--that is how I look at it, anyway, because I'm not from around here.
You have to weigh the pros and cons. I mean it's all well and good that I live in a city with everything available to me and can go out for Pad Thai at 10pm on a Tuesday night, but living in a place where people think it's OK to park in front of your driveway because they do NOT have your same sense of right or wrong makes it difficult to go anywhere at all.
If I still lived out on the prairie, I would totally own a shotgun--the sound of that gun cocking is like a universal (thanks to Hollywood) signal that you are not looking for trouble, but you will defend yourself with deadly force if it comes to it. Perhaps I will buy one anyway, and keep it here at the apartment--I don't have to ever use it, just cock the gun when I'm feeling vulnerable. (Which would, of course, result in me being arrested for threatening someone with a deadly weapon. Even if the other person was an asshole who needed a little fear put in them, I'd be the agitated one when the cops got there...)
Every time I go back to the prairie, I bristle a little, at the perceived lack of...stuff. It's not a lack of material things, but, fewer things to do or look at and a limited number of perspectives. It is exactly that limited number of perspectives that makes people who live there feel so strongly about what is right and what is wrong--everybody they know feels the same way they do. I guess that's why I left. I didn't feel the same way--at least not about everything.
I am not at a point in my life where I feel so beat up by the city that I would leave. I'm not saying that day will never come--it just hasn't yet. If it does, I think I could take it. My shotgun and I would mind our own business until someone messed with us, then we'd be all, "You called down the thunder."
Until then, better sharpen my skills so I can be the thing that cities call for--sophisticated and charming...with my ability to apply deadly force masked behind my sickly appearance.