At around 6pm on Christmas, I sat in the parking lot of my Strafford High School, my Alma Mater, with a friend whom I have known for years and love dearly. We reminisced for what seemed like hours, as both of us had been resistant to return in quite some time. Our memories, both happy and sad, rang out across the deserted lot and bounced off of the aging orange bricks of the building that once held so much of who I am today. We shared laughs and moments of crippling silence paired with understanding.
If you’re from my hometown, or one similar, you know that actions like this are relatively normal. With not much else to do, it’s easy to end up roaming familiar back roads collecting flashes of déjà vu as you pass by homes of old friends and fellow classmates, or simply reflecting on other moments when you have done exactly this. It’s not often that I actually spend time in Strafford, so on that night, as I gazed up at the electronic marquee – a modern addition to the faded glory of the school it stands for – as it told of various dates and events that I couldn’t care less about, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the small town I so frequently tend to distance myself from.
This city knows everything about me, whether I like it or not. I was raised alongside the same people from the time I started preschool to the day I moved away. My closest friends’ families were my own. My character was built by a combination of not only my own family, but teachers, coaches, and parents whom kept a close eye on me and took a personal interest in making sure I turned out okay. I was never alone; and while at the time, I often felt suffocated by this, I am so appreciative now of the relationships that carried me through every twist and turn my adolescence held.
How comforting it is to return home to the friends you’ve known and loved since elementary school, and be able to pick up exactly where you left off. How effortless it is to catch up in conversation on the various directions our lives have taken us and not have to justify any words or actions, simply because these people know exactly why you are the way you are and love you for (or in spite of) it. We helped shape each other. Every experience, whether it new, unusual, good, or bad, we experienced together. These people I’m talking about – they know who they are – don’t have to hear your life story because they went through it all at your side. This is a concept I had previously failed to give credit.
Too often I deny my humble beginnings. Admittedly, this town isn’t much. There are more churches than there are restaurants, and more gas stations than there are stoplights; its small, and far past its prime; but it has given me more people to love and who love me than I deserve, and for that reason, I will always return.