“I never wanted to make you go. You might be a stranger now, but I just wanted to let you know that I meant what I said.” — Turnover
The night before Thanksgiving, I scanned the room with a lightweight rum and coke lens. It was one of the first moments to myself when I didn’t have a companion reflecting some sort of ghost back at me.
There’s Taylor, with an eerily similar freckled face to mine, conjuring memories of walks through carnivals and sneaking away from my bedroom, sitting cross-legged in my driveway.
One of the most popular boys at my high school, sending me into flashes where I’m dressed in blue, head to toe, screaming my lungs out at a football game where it’s below 40 degrees, or another time when I acted like a complete jackass on an 8th-grade field trip to try to get his attention.
There’s the first boy I ever truly cared about. He was the first person I slept next to for a whole night when we were 16. I remember thinking, “I will never forget what this feels like.”
I once thought that where I grew up was heaven on earth, and it was, but that magic does not live there anymore.
I stare down into my ice cubes with a final resignation of what my dad has been telling me for decades. My home, my joy is with the people I still love who live here, the memories I had, but it’s no longer hidden away in the high school’s second parking lot or Dam 4.
A voice in my head is screaming at me, but finally, I agree. This isn’t my place anymore.
When I left in February, I knew I needed to go. My parents moved out as I moved into what I truly thought was the best for me. I loved my ex-boyfriend more than what most people are capable of in their entire lifetime, of that I’m sure. So, even though he never asked me to, I pushed hard to get my first job at home, and I moved in with his brother, our mutual best friend, and when he was home, him. He was my joy, so when the voice, completely muffled and stifled underneath proclamations of sincerity and visions of a Yellowcard wedding attempted to whisper doubts of home, I powered through.
It was my heaven, until it became my hell.
When he left, he took away my background noise. I was stripped down and forced to see what was right in front of me. The hometown that I loved so much for so many years was ugly, even a bit cruel to the heartbroken eye.
Broken dreams. Hearts diseased with jealousy and pain. Straight-up racism. Cruel addiction.
I had to leave, but I couldn’t pull the trigger until a year and a half later. I remember pulling out of my downtown Hagerstown parking lot with Jesse, and I felt the tightness in my chest ease. An hour and a half up I-81 became my escape, but I thought there was still magic to be had when I decided to come back.
But here I was, standing in the same place that held my prom 8 years ago, as a sad smile crept onto my face.
I thought I left my love, my light somewhere among the cow pastures and disproportionate number of gas stations scattered along rural roads, but it stayed with me all this time.
My first catfish on a kiddie fishing pole, kissing under fireworks out on his dad’s boat on the 4th of July, the taste of poorly mixed jungle juice, buzzing with the anticipation of a rowdy night. If I close my eyes now, I swear to you, I can smell the river. I can taste the tang on my lips — both him and the burn of the alcohol.
They both mastered those impossible parallels: sweet, yet bitter, having the ability to make someone feel like she’s flying, but with just a few words, have her head spinning, dropping her to her knees.
It’s bittersweet, because many of these people, these places — they just aren’t regulars in my life anymore, but that’s okay. They were beautiful moments that live infinitely in my mind, but they’re also stepping stones for the incredible, vast life I have ahead of me.
I will likely never live there again, but it will always live with me.
Thank you for the ones who never abandoned me, even when I am terrible at texting or disappear into my feelings. You are loved more than I could ever express.