“That’s where I made out with a girl watching Julie & Julia!”
“That’s where my grammar school best friend lives. He’s hot now.”
“That’s where I played football and prayed for a broken finger.”
“That’s a Wendy’s.”
Over the weekend, some college friends drove down from Boston and stayed with me. To give them the biggest bang for their buck, I assessed my town and the surrounding area for the Greatest Hits of my life.
Theoretically it’s not difficult. I live in a historically-significant area, full of ancient churches, old big-money family castles and interesting architecture. It’s also thirty minutes from New York City, but I’m not outsourcing my hometown pride to Manhattan. Not chic. I planned out a weekend that catered specifically to my friends: food-centric, a little bit lazy, and nerdy. They’re so lucky to have me, I s2g.
But in planning that weekend, I rediscovered my hometown and my own emotions towards it. I moved to my town when I was eight, entering a new school halfway through the year. This is a fact that I have repressed and forgotten until writing this.
Being the new kid, coupled with the fact that I was un-athletic, annoying and gay, marked me instantly as different. I moved into the suburbs, where the boys balanced sports the way I do Kardashian gossip Instagrams (see, I’m so gay – just picture that in the third grade). Eventually, I made some friends and settled in, but I always felt like I smelled new, different. Kids sense difference intrinsically, like dogs and high notes, and it was made clear to me that I was never a native. Eventually, I grew up and stopped caring, and went to high school and college.
In the weeks before, and in the days during, showing my friends around forced me to take a critical look at where I lived. Whenever I was somewhere interesting, I made a mental note to show it to my friends.
Days before they arrived, I took my dog to a nature preserve. I’ve been going there forever, and it’s a special place for me. When I was a kid, I used it to project my fantasies (epic wooded battles, or tense discussions echoing over the frozen lake water).
Ten steps into it, my dog refused to walk. Rather than go back (I used gas, sweetie – you’re walking on this path) I scooped him up and put him in my coat. He’s small, but thick, and so as I walked (arms aching) around the lake, it triggered one of my earliest memories of the preserve.
When I was nine years old, my family took the same nature walk. We had just gotten the dog. It was snowier then, and he was smaller. I unbuttoned my jacket (denim, lined with Sherpa) and nuzzled him against my shirt, buttoning the jacket over both of us. He was probably not even six months old then, and here he was again, thirteen years later, pulling the same shit. It hit me, all at once, how long I had been walking this exact nature path.
I remembered that jean jacket. A classmate, whom I later found out had a massive crush on me, negged me by telling me her brother had the same jacket but found it to be too feminine (not that that stopped me, honey). I also remembered holding my dog in that same coat one winter and him vomiting wildly over it.
Later, driving around with my friends, I pointed out different places – where I ran track; the field where I, at eleven and weighing as much as a small bird, played football as a defensive lineman and spent the entire season praying for a broken finger. The movie theater where I made out with my first (and only) girlfriend. The houses of childhood friends. My grammar school and corresponding parish church. The Starbucks where my mother and I had our first honest conversation after I came out of the closet. We drove along the Hudson River, and I pointed out the park I went as a teenager, the houses I had campers at during the summer, the high school where I went to one, very awkward high school dance.
I had never let myself settle into my town in the same way I had with my summer camp: a constant regardless of where I lived. I measured my life in those summers, where I started at three and worked until I was 21. The friends, the enemies, the moments. When I think of my childhood and early adulthood, that’s where I go.
But, in spite of myself, I had formed a sentimentality around my town, the school, the fields, my house. Even carrying that New Kid scent, I had formed memories in this area. These places were honeycombed with memories: pediatrician’s offices, hay rides in chilly October, hikes throughout my life, kisses and tears and tantrums.
Showing someone else your town, trying to expose the beauty and the specialness beneath the mundanity, felt a lot like taking stock of your own self. I had grown up here; I had evolved here. It’s something I took for granted forever. Since moving back post-graduation, I’ve had a complex relationship with my hometown (it rings a little too close to Failure to Launch, and if anything, I’m the Sarah Jessica Parker of my universe). But taking other people through my childhood sentiments, I warmed to my places in a way that I hadn’t realized.