This weekend we went back to the place we lived for 20 years for a family event, and even had our neighbors watch our livestock so we could spend the night. You know you've truly cut ties with the place you used to live when you visit and end up needing a hotel room, because most of the people you knew you've either lost touch with or they've moved on themselves to better climes.
Three years ago, I left that town like my hair was on fire, practically burning rubber as we hit the highway for the last time in the rental moving truck, leaving it all behind in the June heat and dust.
I didn't go back for two and a half years, joking that someone might decide to close the gate through the mountains while I was away and I'd end up never getting back to my new home on the coast. It was halfway true, in a way I was always afraid that the place we'd moved was just too perfect, too much fun, and that one day someone would come along and tell me that it had all been a mistake and that it was time to go home now to the dust and the heat of the Valley. But eventually my curiosity won out, along with needing to attend a graduation ceremony for a family member, and so we hit the highway and set a course for northeast, about a couple of hours from where we live now.
Going back was a little like going out to coffee with an ex after not seeing them for several years. There are usually little traces of 1) the stuff you fell in love with originally, 2) the crappy stuff that broke you guys up, and 3) new things about them that have happened since you parted ways.
And so it was with The Old Town. Still there were endless green fields, the flat land, and the warm nights. Also still there was the poverty, the absolute, abject poverty, everywhere you looked and even in some places you didn't want to look. And there was progress, by the measure the city sets for itself. The vacant Walmart building has become a Hobby Lobby. There's talk of a Chipotle and a Habit restaurant coming to town, and a brand new Tractor Supply now sits on the edge of the city where a cotton field used to be. There may not be good-paying jobs, but there's plenty of places to spend your minimum wage paycheck or social security money, that's for sure.
And I realized I don't hate the town anymore. I've stopped hating the general plan the city put forth for it, which featured huge expansion of retail without an accompanying expansion of industry. I may not agree with it, but now that it no longer impacts my life it doesn't bother me as much anymore. I've stopped grieving for the place it used to be -- the little Mayberry-type town I moved to in 1991 -- and accepted what it's become.
And when we woke up there on Saturday morning, I was happy to be there. Not to live there, but to visit. For a moment I even thought, "what if." What if we ended up coming back by some strange twist of circumstances. Could I do it? The answer lies somewhere between yes and no. Sure, I could go back, but I know that if I stayed there long enough, all the reasons I left the first time would start to bother me again, and in the end it wouldn't work. Sometimes a reunion is possible but you know a long-term relationship would fail, so in the end, what's the point of even trying?
No, me and The Old Town have officially broken up, the documents have been notarized and there's no going back, no matter how nostalgic I get for how it all used to be, back in the early days. At the end of the day, I am where I need to be, and the little town is where it needs to be. And so we'll just both leave it there and part with a handshake and a hug, remembering the old times, but knowing they're gone, gone, gone, and there's no getting them back.