A Rocky Relationship
by Jamie Berube
Last Sunday night I talked to my best friend on the phone for four hours.
Our conversation was full of nonsense and thoughtfulness and sprinkled with plenty of bad jokes followed by fits of laughing; it was a good talk that we both needed. It’s hard being far away from your best friend. She lives in Florida, 2,500 miles away from my West coast home.
It would take more than a long telephone conversation to compensate for the year that’s gone by since we’ve spoken face to face, but it lessens the sting of long distance to just hear her voice. And it makes me feel like I’m back in Florida, sitting with her and a glass of Merlot on my mom’s front porch late on a summer night.
Sometimes I’m jealous that she still lives in the town where we grew up – the place where I wept through adolescence, had my first kiss, and learned how to drive through tropical storms and hurricanes; hearing her voice makes me miss my Southern roots.
But like any twenty something aspiring writer with a slightly wounded past, I have a confusing and conflicted relationship with the place where I grew up.
If you’ve read writers like Dave Eggers or John Updike or have listened to Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”enough times, maybe you agree that the relationship we have with our hometown can be as complex and messy as the relationship we have with an ex-lover. There are regrets and memories and feelings that can take decades to shake, depending on how good or bad they were.
It might work to your advantage in social circles, particularly artistic or hipster friendly ones, to tell the story of how you got the balls to move away from your crappy hometown and subsequently reinvent yourself. You may appear edgy and interesting as you wax poetic the plights of your upbringing and give smart, satirical commentary about why you were a loner or too weird for the popular kids in school. It is in my opinion that David Sedaris championed this. If you’ve read his books you’ll know what I mean.
I admit, when I moved to California it felt good and almost cathartic, in a way, to tell people I moved away from my small hometown to escape the Republicans, chain restaurants and pissy old people.
But no matter how much I badmouth the muggy suburbs of Central Florida for it’s lack of progress and the people my age who stayed and settled for jobs at Starbucks and steakhouses, I know in my heart that it was my home. And parts of it were really special.
This leads me to the crux of my post.
Can we ever really triumph over our roots? Can we possess an identity that’s unaffected by our hometown and upbringing, if we really try?
This is assuming that maybe, like me, there were things that weren’t good or right about the environment of your upbringing. Maybe you’ve tried to forget them because you don’t want them to be a part of you anymore. I think this is necessary sometimes.
For me, my booze guzzling step dad who liked to smash and break everything in my bedroom when in a drunken rage isn’t something I can allow to be a part of me at 24 years old. He was an idiot with a disease. It wouldn’t be fair to write off my hometown because of him.
It’s easy for the bad things to make you forget about the good. And there are lots of good things about where I grew up.
There are the simple things like neighbors that will loan you a cup of sugar if you knock on their door and ask, and stupid things like knowing the exact tree in the back alley behind my mom’s house where I took my first swig of vodka when I was 14. And there are sweet things like the spot where I first kissed my boyfriend before he was my husband and the running trail 5 minutes from my mom’s house where I trained for my first 5K.
On Sunday night around hour three of being on the phone with my best friend, we started making absurd jokes that wouldn’t make sense to a retarded rat, and at one point I’d been laughing so hard for so long that my face was sore.
In that moment I realized one of the best things about my hometown is that it’s where I cultivated deeply meaningful and perfectly comfortable relationships with people like my best friend, people who get me like nobody else can.
Most importantly, the people who’ve helped shape my identity as an adult – which sort of answers my question. Can we possess an identity unaffected by our upbringing, if we really try?
I think we can. But it depends on the people and experiences that we allow to affect our identity.
As my best friend and I ended our conversation Sunday night, I wished I was there. Back in the muggy suburbs of Central Florida, where I could drive to her house to watch some indie film one of us heard about on NPR, drink cheap wine and tell bad jokes. That’s a part of my roots that I don’t want to give up. My best friend and a glass of red wine or a four-hour long telephone conversation in it’s place will always feel like home, no matter how rocky my relationship with my actual hometown may be.
Jamie Berube was raised in the South for 16 years before relocating across the country to California about two years ago. She is a freelance writer and social worker. She has a passion for delicious literature and any candy combining peanut butter and chocolate. She’s also the author of “Blame it on Skynyrd,” published in Deep South in 2010.