Sunday, January 31, 2010

Growing up in a Small Town

Small towns are charming, idyllic and evil.

 Facebook can be a very dangerous thing. Thinking too much about the past is not constructive, I think. And as I noted in my blog entry Past, Present, and Future, dwelling on the past can be an emotionally crippling experience.

More than 30 years have elapsed since I graduated from High School. And yet, the traumas of growing up never seem to entirely recede. And, thanks to Facebook, you can be confronted with those traumas of the past, if you so choose. It is a bittersweet experience, and one that is hard to look away from.

Some friends of mine have died. This is natural enough, of course. But it makes one sad to hear of it. It seems some of the best die young.

On the other hand, a fellow who, while on the student disciplinary board, was the swing vote that got me expelled from Prep School, also died a few years back. Turns out he had a wife and kids, and was an investment adviser. Funny thing how time works. At one time, I hated this person. Now, I felt kind of sad for him.

There were other kids at my school who were mean to me, who are now middle-aged Dads working at middle-class jobs, with big paunches. I wonder now why we didn't get along then. Of course, there were kids I was not kind to, as well.   And that sort of memory is hurtful.

Some folks have changed over the years to the point where they are unrecognizable. Others, seem not to have aged or changed a day - mostly the young at heart. Some ended up at careers that seem entirely appropriate of their character. Others ended up as horrible underachievers. While others totally surprise you.

Then there are names that pop up that you remember, but for the life of me, I can't remember at all who they were or what they were like, other than names called out in class.

One classmate started a Facebook site, entitled "I survived growing up" in our small town. It is interesting to read the entries, which are almost evenly divided between those who were someone bitter about the past or glad to have left, and others who felt that our small town was an idyllic atmosphere and that "we were lucky to have lived there."

Probably both sides are right. Living in a small town can be a sheltered environment, and our school was top notch. But the smallness of the place also means that you can feel alienated and ostracized, if you don't fit in to the "norms" there, or if you are not popular with the other kids.

Reading the blog entries and Facebook profiles of these long-ago names brought back memories to the forefront. Memories that I did not want to remember, but are running through my brain like lightening. I think of one incident, and then another pops into my head. And then another.

Some are funny stories, some are bittersweet. Some are sad, and some (perhaps most) are rather embarrassing.   I look back with some regret, like most folks do, at things I did or could have done differently.  But as I noted in my Past, Present, and Future, blog entry, having regrets or obsessing about the past is a zero-sum game.  There is no profit in it.

And yet, I can't get the stories out of my head . So, I thought, why not write them down? Maybe that will exorcise the demons in my brain, once and for all.  Or maybe not.  We'll see.

Since those days, I've managed to do well for myself.  I now have a vacation home on a lake about an hours drive away from the town I grew up in.   I've had a chance to go back and visit on occasion. Yes, the pro-town faction is right, it was a beautiful community, and as an adult, I can appreciate more how nice it was.

But I can appreciate it now, because I am just another tourist there.  No one knows me, or my name.  And I know no one there.   I can appreciate it now for what it is, and not what it was.   I can still see faint images of ghosts from the past here and there.  But for the most part, the town is now a stranger to me, and me to it.  And that's a good thing, I think.

The names in these stories have been changed to protect the innocent - and not so innocent.   In some instances, characters may represent a combination of people.  However, the events are real and to the best of my ability, unaltered.  However, I recognize that we all view history through the filter of our minds.  So these stories are not absolute truth, but merely my filtered view of what truth is.

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