Thursday, February 23, 2006

In A Small Town

Small towns can be wonderful places to live when you're a kid. Everyone knows you and can help you. Meeting friends can be easy because school and sports bring people together.

For teenagers small towns can be hell.

I remember hearing my brothers talking with friends. So many wanted to leave that "hick town" and go somewhere real. A few wanted to stay but they seemed to be the minority.

For many it wasn't the town so much as boredom, lack or freedom, or fear. I experienced lots of boredom and felt restricted in my town but didn't feel any fear. Others did.

One day my brother was talking with a friend about a boy that committed suicide. He said that no one knew if the boy had been gay. Being gay might be ok for city people but not for our town it seemed. Being gay was a "rational" explanation for the suicide of a "guy who had everything going for him".

We had an unspoken code of behavior about things like that. It depended on what you did and with whom you did it.

My friend Melvin and I both had a crush on this girl. I found a bracelet full of fake diamonds that looked kind of nice. We gave it to the girl as a present "from both of us." We all laughed and blushed furiously. I didn't tell my family because I didn't want them making fun of me. I did know that was "acceptable" behavior for my town.

Approximately a year later I had another encounter with "the code". I was walking home from school and this guy named Drew asked me a question. I kept walking fast and ignored him.

Drew was a year or two ahead of me in school. He was very effeminate and carried a purse. If I was seen talking to him I might be made fun of. If my brothers had heard of him talking to me he may have been beaten up.

I ignored Drew because I couldn't understand him and it was too risky to try. It was much easier to keep walking.

Years later I escaped that town for good. I remember the good times but they blur into all the wasted dreams and frustration.

For years I hated that town and worried I would get stuck in another like it. I tried to avoid learning about changes to the town and its people. With my family and friends this hasn't always been possible.

One year at university my mom sent me a newspaper clipping about the death of a family friend. I was just about to set the clipping down when something caught my eye. There was an obituary for Drew saying he had died of AIDS in Vancouver.

I don't know if he had a happy life or not. I know that he was as unhappy in that town as I was. We both escaped and lived.

There is nothing wrong with small towns for most people. Some of us need more space and more anonymity. When we find ourselves in a small town we just want to get away.

1 comment:

LJ said...

When you a kid in a small town - you can't get lost in the crowd. This was a very poignant entry.