Going home is never easy.

Crossing the county line makes my stomach twist into undoable knots, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

But, when a boy I went to high school with died two weeks ago, I felt I needed to go back. My classmates, even though they weren’t my friends, were plastering their pain all over my Facebook newsfeed. My heart, even though it has a hard time understanding death, was aching for them. And my head thought going back would help me understand and empathize.

I didn’t tell anyone I was going back. I didn’t want anyone to know and I didn’t want anyone to see me there. I just wanted to drive down the main street and see the slow-paced community banding together to mourn the loss of another young person.

***

I understand the part of death where I won’t ever be able to see that person again. My entire life has been a marathon of characters coming and leaving. But I don’t understand people’s reactions, especially in my hometown. My hometown is a community that prides itself on everybody knowing everybody; someone is always around to help. But that’s far from the truth. The community members only come together for Friday night football, the deaths of high school kids, and events that bring in revenue (they just hosted the Tough Mudder). You’ll see the most encouraging people present at these events, but the same people refuse to unite to battle the poverty, the addiction, and the abuse that haunts the hallways of the high school and hides on every gravel road.

When I ask why nobody is doing anything about these heartbreaking realities, they say, “I’ve just never been aware of those subcultures.”

***

So, I drove down the two-lane highway, only stopping to sneak in the backdoor of my mom’s work for a quick lunch.

Usually, her hugs aren’t something I want or need, because her arms haven’t always been gentle, but I needed something familiar. And even in the pits of her addiction and the highs of her always-changing relationship status, she tried to be there for me; she just didn’t know how.

Eventually, I quit letting her try. Shutting out all of her efforts. She didn’t deserve my emotions and my mental health couldn’t afford to give her any (more uncountable) second chances.

But since I started writing my memoir, I’ve had to accept the harsh reality and truths of my past experiences. And the only way I can be completely honest with myself is to be honest with others.

Going back to my hometown will never be easy for me. It was in the walls of my elementary school my eyes cried for someone to notice that I wasn’t going home to a safe place; it’s the man who helps run the county, who walked in his son’s house to see him slamming my mom’s head into the kitchen floor while I screamed for him to stop, only to turn around silently after seeing the abuse. I’ll never be able to return and not think of these things. But the more I talk about it and the more I write about it, the more comfortable I become with accepting that these events did happen.

I haven’t accepted everything, but I have accepted my mom. And right now, she’s someone I want to have in my life. I haven’t decided the parameters of our blooming relationship, but whatever they are will be decided by me.

I finally have a choice.

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