The Anxiety and Nostalgia of Going Home

This Saturday, I drove back to my hometown. This isn’t something I often do. My mom lives in Lawrence now, and my brother and sister live in California, so I have no family ties.

Honestly, there’s only three reasons that motivate me to go back there: to visit my father’s grave, to get Chinese food at the Silver Lake Restaurant, and to honor my high school debate coach, who has since retired.

silver lake

I got to do two out of three this weekend.

When we tried to get a to-go order at the Chinese restaurant when they opened at 5 pm, we were told it’d be a three and a half hour wait. Apparently, you now have to pre-order your Saturday night Chinese food ahead of time.

Driving down the highway toward town fills me with this sense of dread. It brings up old memories of failure and scrutiny that worm their way into my heart. But at the same time, I love the smell of air, which is so fresh and unchanged. I love the subtle changes and the perennial landmarks. Though the town holds lots of bad memories, it also holds so many good ones, of hijinks with friends and first love and my still favorite job, working in my family’s pizza restaurant.

My high school debate coach was being honored, so the commons area of my school was filled with classmates and competitors, debaters older and younger than me, coaches from around the state, and staff and faculty from my high school.

I really did love my coach, and was happy to see her receive some recognition for all the work she did. There were a couple of old friends I was glad to see.

But most people didn’t want to catch up, but size me up. They didn’t really care about where I was or how I was doing, but about measuring me against some sort of arbitrary yardstick of success.

But why did I feel so scrutinized? It’s not like I have anything to hide. I am successful. I have a career I love and am actually good at it, and I’ve accomplished a lot. But it’s not the kind of thing that people recognize in an elevator speech about your life. I don’t have kids. One person actually asked if I was divorced (Mister BS was in the bathroom at the time) and When I raised my eyebrow, she only shrugged her shoulders. As it to say, “after ten years, it’s expected.”

There’s something simultaneously comforting and nerve-wracking about visiting my hometown.

I am a product of the place I lived from kindergarten through senior year of high school. There’s no denying it. I’m ambivalent about the experience—it’s nice to have such firm roots, to have people who know who you are, and some who genuinely care—but I also felt stifled growing up, unable to show my real self, and I felt the same way all these years later.

You can grow up, leave, and still…some things never change.

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