There is something uniquely horrifying about the sensation one feels when they return to their hometown to find out that they are the only thing that has changed within the entirety of their absence. Everyone looks a little older, a little more pregnant. There are offspring running around who look vaguely familiar; the spawns of the people you went to high school with, strange echoes of your not yet passed youth. There are buildings that have been erected since your departure but you almost don’t even notice them. Because beyond the snot-nosed toddlers and recreation centers, the gas stations and old folk’s homes, the air still smells as stagnant as ever, like the faint scent of rotting flesh and discarded dreams. It is a hellhole, wherein, if you don’t get out while you’re young, you likely never will. The hair on the back of your neck rises as you realize: this is the place where people are born to die.
You stay, because you’re committed now, to seeing friends and seeing family. You sleep in your old bedroom, which, let’s be honest, is now little more than a storage room. And you listen to the incessant chatter of “is this your towel on the floor” and you’re a teenager again, getting woken up by the abysmal voice of those decaying around you. No one is happy and it’s infectious. But how could they be? They are the product and infectors of a highly transmittable disease. If you’re not careful, you’ll catch it too.
Suddenly you find yourself sleeping later than you might, if only to avoid the fact that there is nothing to do upon waking. You stay in your room longer than you have to, if only to avoid talking to anyone, to avoid the realization that this is the sound of person’s voice when they’ve lost all hope and ambition. And in your efforts to avoid the disease, you start to become one of them. Like a flu shot that maltreats the elderly, suddenly you’re getting sick too.
Your head is pounding. Your vision is blurry, distorted, misguided, like your decision to come back in the first place.Your breathing is quick and shallow, just like you. Your throat is swollen, swollen with rebuttals and monologues of regret. You’re losing weight. Because you’re sick. You’re sick. Sick. Sick.
Self-medicate. That’s how everyone deals with their sickness in this town. Everyone has an illness. Not all are identical but the treatment is the same and it approaches you with a smile full of sharp crooked teeth. It whispers in your ear and pokes you in the ribs if you ignore it, with splintered nails and false promises.
I know what will make you feel better
Smoke. That will take the edge off.
Not your thing? Have a drink. We have something for everyone here.
This town has very little but what it does offer in plethora is the ability to numb your inability.
If you had to count—you can’t, but if you could—think of the calories you’ve consumed since you came home. How many of them were alcoholic? Half? More? And why wouldn’t they be? The food is infected, the land is infected, the people are infected. The only thing sterile here is the alcohol. It’s excused, because you’re home and you’re young and why shouldn’t you party? It’s normal; it’s what everyone does here. But be honest. You’re not drinking just because it’s fun. It stopped being fun a few rounds ago. You’re drinking because of the town. You’re drinking because it’s the only way to never realize that while you stay, your visit is short-lived and so are you. You’re drinking because at least while you’re drowning, you can’t feel the grip that it has on your throat.
But you’re not one of them. You’re better. You got away. You’re just visiting. You have ambition. You have a plan. You’re from here, but you never really felt at home. You out grew it. It’s like an old shoe, you tell yourself. It’s too small for you now and what you’re feeling is just the blisters. It’s just the wear and tear of your resisting soul, insistent upon discarding its unnatural, depressing enclosure. But it’s just temporary! When you take it off, when you get out, you’ll be better again. You won’t need their treatments, you tell yourself. You’ll be able to breathe again, you repeat in your head. But repeat as you may, the town is still there, holding your hand. And when you leave, it will be there, even still. You’ll think that it’s gone, but you’ll look in the mirror someday, and there it will be, smiling its cracked smile, resting its calloused hands on your shoulders and softly assuring you that you’ll be back. You’re from here. It will always be apart of you. We’ll see you soon.
You hear dogs barking, lawn mowers mowing, people yelling. But no one is going anywhere. It’s the hotel California of your nightmares, and you can’t stay any longer. This time, you have outstayed your welcome.
I think it’s time to go.