I recently went back to visit my hometown for the 4th of July, and it was kind of weird. To tell you the truth, it’s always a little weird. It’s a pretty small place, so wherever I look, there’s a memory lurking. My brain is wired to soak up as much shit as it can, so these memories aren’t necessarily important ones. For example, I drove past the Catholic church several times when I was home, and here’s a spattering of the memories conjured:
I was once sharpening a stick on the bricks of the bell tower. No real reason, just a kid being a kid. Suddenly, this pickup skids to a halt, and this fat guy gets out and starts screaming at me to quit vandalizing the church. I didn’t even know what vandalize meant. He goes into this tirade about how people go to church here, and what he ought to do is make me replace the mortar in between each and every one of those bricks (I didn’t know what mortar was, either). I was probably eight at the time, I’m just trying not to cry while this maniac screams at me. He eventually forces me to apologize—to him, for some reason—and then he leaves. I go and grab the biggest rock I can find, and slam it down on the brick wall until I break a couple of bricks, and then I run home. He died of cancer years later.
Another time, at that same church, I’m sitting out with one of my friends and these two girls. The girls are kind of flirting, mostly with him, and they start telling us about how they went water skiing at the lake over the weekend. One of these girls, we’ll call her “L,” she was really cute, one of those girls that all the boys tried to impress with dumb jokes and shit. She later grew up to be a high school cheerleader, and a hot one at that. The other girl, the one who grew up to be a divorced mother of who-gives-a-shit, she’s talking, and she goes, “It’s L’s turn to ski, and she’s doing real good, and then she loses control, and just busts. We circle around with the boat, and ask her if she’s okay, and she’s like ‘Yeah, yeah, it was no big thing.’ And then this turd just floats up right beside her. She was so scared, she pooped!”
I look at my friend, and he looks at me, and suddenly trying to figure out a way to get these girls to kiss us doesn’t seem nearly as cool. That girl that grew up to be a cheerleader, I grew up listening to how smokin’ hot she was, but I never really saw it after that. “Dude, can you imagine her naked, ridin’ on your dick?” And I never could. All I could imagine was her floating in the middle of a lake, a piece of shit bobbing there beside her.
Same church, a BMX trick gone wrong, smashing face-first into a fence, breaking it, running away, hoping no one was in the backyard that I just slammed my face into, hoping I don’t get blood on my shirt as I ride home.
Walking home past that same church, with a girl I “like,” when a dog comes out of nowhere, barking, trying to bite. I’m pretending to be brave, but my heart’s racing, I’m terrified. Grabbing a handful of rocks and telling her to run, but instead she just starts crying. So I have to chase off this dog, and all I can think about is how this chick is not worth getting rabies for, but I probably won’t do any better because all the other girls just want to be friends. Because I’m fat.
Same church, who knows what time it is, I’m in High School by now, staring up at the church bell. I take a hit of the joint and the cherry blinds me for a second, and it takes my night eyes longer than usual to adjust, probably because of the weed. And as I’m lying there, my friend rambling on about how politics and religion are the same thing, and it’s all bullshit, I’m not thinking about him or his words. I’m thinking about how I was here getting screamed at, I was here with the poop-in-the-lake girl, I was here with the bicycle, with the angry dog. I’m thinking about how memories are weird, and then I’m taking another hit, and thinking about how I better do whatever I can to make the most out of life, because what’s right now, that’ll be a memory later.
Those are just a few of the things I thought about as I passed by one church on my recent visit home. The entire place is like that for me.
The thing about small towns is that although they change, they don’t change nearly as quickly as big cities. There’s progress, but you have a lot more time to revisit the locations of your childhood memories. And when things do change, it can really throw you for a loop.
It’s weird going back.
It has gotten even stranger since people from my hometown have discovered The Strangelands. “You sure do cuss a lot on there.” I heard that a lot while I was home.
“You’re right,” I would reply. “I do.” Because just between you and I? I really do cuss a lot on this site. What’s weird is, it doesn’t seem like a lot to me. When I’m typing, it seems like the way I’d talk to a group of friends if we were all hanging out with a bottle of gin and a little too much time on our hands. Maybe my friends and I cuss too much when we find ourselves in that situation. Or maybe we cuss the exact right amount.
“How do you talk about the things you talk about? I’d be too embarrassed.” I heard that a few times, too. The answer? Everything’s easy when you discard your dignity, man. I’ll admit: it’s a little odd to see someone you haven’t spoken to in years, and the first thing they ask is how your penis is doing after that jalapeño thing.
Awkward? Of course.
Embarrassing? Nah, man. Embarrassing is dozing off during Freshman Algebra class, getting a hard-on, and having to walk two blocks to the cafeteria as soon as you wake up. Which I have done.
It was humiliating, it was awful, and it was life-changing. You wake up one day, your pride is gone, you don’t know where it went or when it left, you just know that you feel a little better about life. Some days, you hope your pride did well without you. Maybe it went out, met the right girl, settled down, had a few kids, finally went to those night classes, and became a vet. Other days, you hope your pride woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a missing kidney and a burning venereal disease. Then, one day, you realize you don’t give a shit about what your pride’s doing.
Eventually, it drops in, unannounced, and the two of you shoot the shit for a little while, trying to pretend that you have the ability to ignore the suffocating tension in the air.
And then your pride goes, “So, uh, I was thinking…you, um...how ‘bout I come back? You want to be cool, right? Want people to like you?”
And you suddenly realize that you don’t even care. You don’t care if people are laughing at you or admiring you. The only thing that matters is that you’re you, doing your thing, whatever it is, and that the cops aren’t trying to break in your door and beat you with clubs…yet.
If I had to do that Algebra thing over again, I’d give the teacher a big thumbs-up and say something like, “Loved the lesson today, Mr. Case. I mean, I loved it.” And I’d shake my boner at him. Because, really, the only thing more uncomfortable than being the guy with the inappropriate erection is being the guy who caused it. Am I right?