I’m living in the town in which I grew up. I moved away for a bit, hopping from city to city – 5 places in four years. I tried cities both much much bigger, and villages much much smaller than here. My town has 80,000 people in it, and I feel like I know them all. Or that I’ve at least met versions of them all before, and the reality is I probably know someone who knows them.
I went through some “experimental” years, and then some other “finding out who I really am” years while I was away. I came back as someone I thought was totally different than before, and that because I’d built this new life it should easily transfer here. I didn’t expect it to be a fresh start, but I did hope that it meant I could forget or ignore occurrences that reminded me of the past, that I could just mix back into the crowd of the city.
The problem with mid-sized towns is that you can’t quite do that.
They are, all at the same time, too small to really escape the reminders of the past, but are also too big for the past-people to get to know the new you enough to forgive the old one. Small towns where everyone does truly know everyone, people forgive and move on because they have to – they see the “new you” every day, and if you really want to be this new person, you just drag them along for the ride. There’s the small town chatter that happens in grocery stores, bars, on the sidewalks, and over tea, which lets people catch each other up on your business for you. It’s not always a good thing, but if you’ve come back to town with a new persona this makes it easier to just be, and not have to explain over and over again. Eventually the drama of you coming back will be forgotten as some new drama comes along.
My town is too big for that. But it is big enough that I’ve met a whole new friend group, started a job in a different field, picked up new hobbies, but also kept the old ones that I wanted, without running into the past group of people very often. It’s this “not very often” that makes mid-sized towns sort of weird. I see people that I should probably say an awkward hello to, and if it was a small town, I would make small talk, but because it’s bigger, it’s accepted that its not required. You can start a new life in a mid-sized town, but never get away of the reminders of your old one. You don’t get true anonymity that you might in a big city, where the chances of running into someone you knew is smaller, especially when your life takes you to places you’ve never been before and could guess that a certain type of people would never be seen it. Everything is too close in proximity for that, and the degrees of separation are not far enough that you truly don’t know people.
In the five years I’ve been back, I’ve had to go to some of the old places that I thought I’d never have to, where I’ve, of course, ran into the people I’d rather forget about. I’ve had people show up in my work place unexpectedly, at concerts and parties where I wouldn’t have guessed it’d be there thing. This makes it impossible to fully escape the past. Not that any can truly escape their past, but not having the reminders of it around, would be nice. I’m sure that people who show up at these events that are so “not them” are just trying to do the same thing as me, but because where we last saw each other was such a different place, all the old judgements and nervousness comes back, and we both want to ignore and have the other person forget about it, that we avoid each other the whole night. So I still think of them as I did ten years ago, and as they probably do me to.
So I guess the good thing about mid-sized towns is that we are all in this awkward oh-there’s-someone-from-my-past-but-its-okay-to-avoid-them thing together. So while we can’t escape all memories and people and places of our past, we don’t have to go through the small-town gossipy, drama mess of forcing people to accept the new you.