Where I grew up it was never really cool to like things, unless they were edgy or out there, and then it had to be the right type of thing.
You like Spice Girls?
You like Backstreet Boys?
You have pictures of ugly boys in your locker!
You’re wearing THAT?
The list goes on, and by time I turned 18 I was 100% ready to leave. I couldn’t handle being there anymore. I loved my family, but the culture in my town left little to be desired. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I didn’t really have anyone my own age to hang out with. I desperately wanted to move to the city.
It was only supposed to be a year.
I would become incredibly homesick at times, especially when things went wrong, and they often did because I was 19 and suddenly responsible for everything that happened to me. Every second or third weekend I’d jump on a bus, spend less than 48 hours in my home town, and then come back to my real world. That lasted almost four years.
What I found in the city was freedom.
At school I hated doing sport, I couldn’t catch, I couldn’t run and, more importantly, I hated the feeling of doing anything active. being the fat klutzy kid meant that I almost always had a target on my back. In the city I joined a gym, and since then have always had a membership somewhere. It wasn’t that I didn’t know people who went to the gym at home, it was that I was too scared to try something else where people I knew would laugh at me.
As a teenager I had found the perfect subculture — church. Going to church twice a day was something I did for many years. I wanted to be a youth worker in a church setting, or a school chaplain. I was always a little young to do anything that I saw as meaningful, like run preach a sermon or organise and entire night of youth group activities. Once I moved to the city I found a job as a a school chaplain straight away, and four years later I worked in youth ministry until I finished my degree.
At home I was one of the last people I knew who started driving. It took me forever, I even had a car before I had my P plates. When I moved to the city I was The Country Kid With A Car, and transported the majority of my friends to all sorts of places for a few years. Even when they started driving I was a nervous passenger, so I would usually drive anyway.
At home I was always scared to try new things, but I was also scared of missing out (serious #FOMO vibes). After I moved to the city, everything was new. I wasn’t embarrassed about embarrassing myself, or someone dobbing on me through the gossip mills about whatever I had done that weekend that was impossibly dorky. I said yes to almost everything, even if it meant staying up to the wee hours of the morning until my assignments were finished.
In the city I wasn’t be scared to be myself.
And who I was wasn’t ever really out there. Even though my friends would call me a hippie at home, I knew that there wasn’t another word to describe who I was. I was a of little Phoebe and a little Bridget Jones rolled into one. I always thought I was weird, and this was people’s general assessment of me.
I have been away for 13 years now. I don’t intend on moving back. In lots of ways, I feel that very little has changed that would make it a place I want to be. If anything, the streets are unsafer, particularly at night. Stores and eateries don’t open late or even close earlier than they used to. The prevalence of drugs, particularly ice, has meant that my home town has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In the recent marriage equality survey, only 52% of respondents said ‘yes’. There the ‘it’s okay to say no’ camp is suggesting that it is rigged, people didn’t get their forms, etc, etc. It can be racist as hell, and bloody maddening at the best of times.
But I also understand why people love it. There’s a lot on for families. The town itself is beyond picturesque. Very few things change, but when they do it’s either loved or hated. You’re a local hero if you don’t leave.
I like getting up each morning and making choices. At 20 I would wake at 5.45am and head to a spin class. The arterial road would almost be empty. I’d walk in to the class, dim lights to account for the UV lighting, and cover my head with a hoodie, happy not to speak to anyone. And at 31 I would find myself wearing a black t-shirt and a skirt with flamingos printed on it. The woman in the elevator next to me looks me up and down, in a way I know all too well. Instead of exclaiming ‘you’re wearing that?’ she says, ‘I love your skirt. Where’s it from?’
And that, ladies and gentlemen, would be the big difference between living there and living here.
Someone likes the same stuff I do.