"Hm", mom sighed, the kind of sound you make when you've got nothing really to say but have to fulfill some social contract.
A beat. "Tell me about the folks up in Canada," my mom said, "You always have great stories about them". We visit my dad's mom up in Rhode Island a few times a year, which usually coincides with exactly when I'm home from school.
"Oh, you know, things are hard, as always". She explains how this one distant relative I've never met refuses to sell his farm just so some company can raze it and build a mall. How another relative has a colon problem and will have to spend the rest of her days in the local infirmary. How my uncle so-and-so had to sell his Steinway and the family's violin so they could buy four cows just so he could keep his family afloat.
Time passes, more deflated sighs fill the air, goodbyes are exchanged, and we take off to the annual Christmas Eve party my aunt and uncle throw at their place. It's one of those classic family get-togethers, you know? The kind where the kids drink Diet Coke and the men "shoot the shit" on the porch over a can of Sam Adams; the hostess tirelessly worries away over the trays of food meticulously labeled with sticky notes, pouring glasses of wine for guests while she herself sips from a can of soda.
It's fine. I used to hate going to them, but they've gotten better since I've realized I can drink as much booze as I please. Hours pass, the Yankee swap (deeply rooted in family tradition) occurs without event, and everyone goes home, having endured yet another of those yearly obligations.
My mom wonders why I'm so reluctant to come home, and so quick to leave once I'm there. I come home and I see the kids I knew growing up who never left. Trite, contrived, but fuck highschool. No place brings me back to the drudgery and parochialism of that life quite like my hometown. Even the few people that I do still talk to from back home, I feel out of touch with. At risk of sounding like a narcissistic, pretentious piece of shit (I am), I feel like there's nothing to talk about. At least, not in the way that I've grown used to. The thing about people at school is that I know I can talk to them about anything; if they don't know shit about a topic, they're at least intelligent enough to listen and use some small critical thought and synthesize something not entirely braindead.
My only solace is when I tiptoe out of the house at two in the morning to smoke a solitary cigarette in the biting wind. I do miss being able to see the stars at night, being able to walk aimlessly in the streets, and the abundance of green things all around, but forest for the trees, right? After a day of sitting on my ass on the couch, trying to pass the time with some programming project on my laptop while my dad spends hour after hour in his recliner watching the History channel and drinking wine, what's my valuation on "being home" supposed to be? I already know I'm a cynical fuck, the question is whether or not that's a problem. Do I have the wrong perspective? To me, being home reminds me of a prospect that I'm intensely scared of. Boiled down, it's complacency. The idea that there's satisfaction in stasis, that you could reach some threshold in life and then decide "OK, that's it, I'm calling it here,".
Maybe it's because I'm just some plucky young thing, ignorant to the real quality of the world and how much it sucks. But I'm not so sure that's it. So many people I see at home are living lives they are either complacent about, or resent. I think the complacency towards one's life comes after resentment. If you're dissatisfied with your place for long enough but opt to do nothing, you become resigned to your situation. I'm of the belief that if you're unhappy with your situation, you can (and should), just fucking do something about it. And that's not to say it's an easy or safe choice in any way. I think improving your life when it's not where you want it to be, getting out of your small, closed, hometown when you have bigger goals, requires just a modicum of self-confidence and risk. And who likes taking risks?
(Young) people seem especially ready to accept the cognitive dissonance of simaltaneously being dissatisfied with their lives while scapegoating their shortcomings onto some systemic or external party. Going to school taught me that I wasn't a golden child, and that the unnatainable is attainable, if I could learn to get over myself. Even with the few friends from home with whom I still keep in touch, I seem to hear from them the same self-defeating prophecy every year: "This summer is going to be the summer!". And it, of course, never is. If you want to do something, stop saying you're going to do it. Do it.
And I guess this rambling comes all the way back around to why I hate coming home. Sister X is mad at Sister Y over Meaningless Dispute Z. Sister Y thinks her daughter is a regular genius-child because "look at what she did at school today!". I see those kids I used to know in highschool with liberal arts degrees, back in their hometown working at a coffee shop, wanting a better life but not knowing how to approach it. Or worse, kids my age already complacent with their lives, who will likely never travel far beyond the reaches of this tiny town. It's not a life I've ever wanted, and coming home invariably reminds me of just how narrow my escape from it was. Is it any wonder that I don't like coming back here?
I love my family, but home is suffocating.