March 23, 2011
Everyone wanted to pretend our small town was perfect.
One supposes most small towns are like this – we want to maintain the illusion, the facade, the picture-perfect American Dream exterior. Like a Stephen King novel, however, darkness lies beneath in many forms.
Fathers raped their daughters, young children cut and burned themselves. There was abuse, neglect, sexual assault, hard drug use, teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia, attempted murder. Underage students had sex with teachers, children endured brutal hardships at home no one knew about.
A fair amount of this occurred in my own family – mostly thanks to my great-grandfather. I did not find out about what an incredibly foul person he was until after he died, which is probably for the best; I might otherwise be in prison for murder myself.
Despite the horrible things going on behind closed, quaint doors, we all put on our brave faces for the public to keep up appearances. We showed up to the Friday night high school football games, bundled up in our team colors under the blue-green field lights, excited, flirtatious, with jocks in their varsity jackets, and those who could drive trying to be nonchalant about their cars in the parking lot. At one of those Friday night games, we received word one of us had been killed in a car accident. Alcohol was involved. The driver, also a student, was thoroughly and tragically ostracized. He did not move in my circles; we were not in the same grade, but I saw his isolation.
We managed to be kids and teenagers through it all.
Most of us likely thought we were alone in our trauma. Almost none of us were.
We muddled through, we survived.
Well, I should say, “most of us survived;” we lost a few along the way. Some to disease, some to accidents, some to suicide.
Now, here the rest of us are in our middle ages, many with kids of our own, all more our own real selves than we were when we all lived together in our nook of a town. Seeing the names and faces from twenty or more years ago is strange and fun and more than a little bizarre.
Most of us probably still envision each other as we were then, and it is a surprise when we see current photos and realize Age is coming for us all, despite always being the same age inside.
I hope we are all happier now than we were then – I would not go back to those times for anything in the world. I hope those of us with children are raising them differently, breaking the patterns, teaching them to communicate and to be free from perceived isolation.
Driving through my hometown now, especially at night, I hope the warm glow of lights from bedrooms is not as deceptive as it used to be, and that the dark windows shelter peacefully sleeping souls. I hope cries do not echo through the locker-rooms of the schools.