You are not like them. You should be living in the city with interesting people…people with ideas and open mindedness! YOU are funny. YOU are interesting. YOU could talk to anybody at a hockey game or a Jewish circumcision. THAT’S Amazing! YOU are a ray of sunshine, drowning in that dark family.
-An honest friend
I grew up in a small rural town in the middle of a midwestern state. We had more bars than churches, unless it was Sunday, then we acted like we had more churches than bars. There was one public and one parochial school. Most everyone lived on a dairy farm or was a townie and though there were railroad tracks running on the south side side of town there was no division of the populace as simple as living on the right or wrong side of the tracks, but instead we relied on some factor I never figured out; not what you had or didn’t, not who you knew or didn’t but a more elusive trait probably defined by whether people knew if your dad drank every afternoon away at the corner bar, the sign outside actually read THE CORNER BAR, and some defining decibel level measuring system that categorized the volume of your mother’s voice when she was screaming about something you had done wrong, the middle name usage included.
Small town minds, small town rules, small town gossip, small town labels. Apply whatever pecking order you wish, the truth was I grew up with a loud mother, a father who couldn’t carry on a conversation with anyone unless he was holding a guitar in his hand and had a case of Pabst in his belly and was asking for a request and the five o’clock church bells ringing at from the bell tower to remind me every single day that I simply was going to hell for the impure thoughts I had to keep at bay every night when I pulled the covers over me and waited for the neighbor boy to sneak in to my yard at night at rap on my window and offer me a cigarette in exchange for some french kissing and patience with his fumbling to open my bra strap while he’s acting like freeing my budding breasts is not what he’s up to at all.
There’s not a lot of self-awareness in a small town, not until you leave, if you look back, if you look back and have any sense of comparison, if you are wiling to step just one foot into the future that doesn’t involve the rules of the small town think tank. Suddenly, one semester of college and your world opens up. You recognize the guidance counselor at the high school tells all the boys to go to technical college and all the girls to enroll as an administrative assistant program, that is, if they weren’t pregnant or already engaged to be married in the next year or two after graduating. Small town schools prepare you well for following the instructions of the authority figures in your life to their faces at least and for spending time drinking at road parties and getting felt up at every opportunity which loosely translated means after dark whenever there is or isn’t alcohol involved.
And there’s this thing called the age of 18; a simple rule that means the male teachers at your school, some of who are fresh out of college themselves, the male teachers know they can look at a few of the graduating seniors as potential wives, and maybe he leans in a little too closely during instruction and brushes fingers along backs of some pretty little hands during lessons and then write a hall pass for extra homework help in 7th hour and counts on some young girl’s teacher fantasy to deliver just enough of a dose of angst that she’ll let her little ass, wearing a pair of tight fitting Levis, saunter into a classroom, almost innocently with that hall pass in hand and a petulant look of surprise when he doesn’t just sweep he into his arms and take her head to the stars and instead he holds her off, telling her he wants to but it wouldn’t be right, and making her think for the rest of her adult life that all relationships have to start in the darkness of impropriety, risk and naughty denial because she is wanting teacher to touch her, touch her everywhere.
So there’s also a bit of intervention from the goodness, the teachers who have a little conference and decide to bestow some opportunities on a family or three with potential. The little girl with hair that smells like cigarettes but is eager to please, reads like books will all be banned tomorrow and has a mouth on her that spits out vocabulary words at a volume learned from her mother’s rants about whatever piece of furniture was now ruined from kids using it as a launch pad for olympic gymnastic routines. She’s the girl who stops wearing the knee-length dresses on Good Fridays, who picks out a pair of 3 inch heels in seventh grade to wear with pink pants and the one who who is clearly on the wrong path if there is no intervention. That kid. The kid that is absolutely crying out for some sort of adventure that will steer her to some life bigger than aiming for the Miss Smalltown crown and get her to see that she could answer to her own story, write it any way she wishes if she will just take a minute to pause and see that something bigger than where she’s been is waiting to meet her, introduce itself and ask her to slip in the front seat and drive.
#for Reticent Mental Property. Images from personal collection. 4/23/2017