Sunday, November 15, 2009

Milk On The Floor

We had friends in town this weekend, and one of them asked me if I liked Buffalo.

"No," I immediately said. "I don't miss it." Vor gave me a sideways look. He was right; I sounded like a blunt butter knife meeting fabric. "I mean, it's complicated," I amended lamely.

How can your feelings towards a city you grew up in be so complicated? Oh, it's easy.

It's a place that is extremely insular in many ways, and very family oriented. It can be completely disorienting to leave, and make you want to run back into the womb screaming, which, because of those strong family connections, your family is more than happy to see you do. The city doesn't want you to leave, ever. The city wants you to stay, to marry someone from Buffalo (who I hope to God you are not related to, so not a joke), to produce more children to stay, to drive the salted roads in winter, work landscape jobs in summer, and probably end up working as a nurse, because there are no jobs out there. (I like nurses. We need nurses. I just mean it's the only good job available in Buffalo.) The city wants you to be Catholic, and eat fish frys with everyone else on Fridays. If you're feeling dangerous, go to a high school spaghetti dinner.

If you grew up there, you have the same inside jokes, the same experiences with many people, people you don't know, even. Where were you during the blizzard of '77? Of 2000? Of 2001? Can you say Scajaquada? Did you ever spend the night on the Canadian border? But there's so much of it, that it goes beyond bonding, into sameness. I didn't know anyone not Catholic until I joined my swim team outside Buffalo. When I go back, I see people from high school, who are still friends with only the same people, and they still tell the same inside jokes from high school. I feel like I have a too-tight turtleneck on, always.

It's hard to leave. I could hear the sucking sound as I dragged my feet out of the city.

But there are things I ache for. I miss Albright-Knox and free Fridays. I miss the beautiful places I used to run. I miss the pizza. Sometimes all that familiarity can be a comfort, when it seems like there is too much change in my life.

I miss somethings about myself from there. I miss the drive I had for volleyball, for swimming. I think I've channeled that drive into a career, but it's hard to tell. With swimming, with sports, it was easy--there were bench marks everywhere that I could watch myself run past. Now, I feel the drive and the need to compete, but it's just there, churning behind me. I miss the simplicity of simple goals.

For the most part, there are parts of me I left there for good, for good reason. I want to reach back and smack the girl I was. Stupid! Stupid for listening to the pressure, because you aren't getting any younger, dear, stupid for thinking I should settle for less than what I ended up with. I accept the blame for my stupid decisions, but I really believe that some of what led me to the decisions was the way the city is, the way the community as an organism thinks.

It's like the Borg. I wonder if I can ever go back, when I will be strong enough, to resist, to not slide into the comfort of the collective. That's something I have to improve on myself.

Where I was, what I was letting myself run into, was known, it was Buffalo. I thank God everyday that I have Vor--the unknown, but without fear; the stability, without complacency; the independence, with someone strong enough to handle it.

As for the decisions I regret, well... I don't know. I'm not done beating myself up. But maybe the beating up could be a productive one; instead of crying over the spilled milk, I'm just cleaning it up, so I know the consequences, so I will be more careful. So I can pass the lesson on.

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