My family is in town for a few days. My parents and my older brother. It’s always a mixed bag when they come. It’s great to see them (we only visit three or four times a year), but it’s also taxing, like when any out-of-towner comes for a visit. There are dinners to plan, tourist attractions to force myself to go see for the tenth time and so much walking.
But their visit does mean that I get a lot of nice, free dinners and we always go to see at least one Broadway show. It’s always good to catch up with them. My favorite moments of their visits are always the post-dinner hotel room hangouts where we hang out and play cards or watch television (we’ve been especially lucky the last few visits as the St. Louis Cardinals , my family’s team, have been playing in the Major League Baseball Playoffs each year).
It’s funny how, as you get older, you start to understand your parents better. They become less of these monolithic figures, omnipresent and pivotal in shaping your life, and more normal. They lose that sheen of invincibility and become human. It’s weird looking at them now and actually seeing their characters: hot-tempered, competitive, exacting, dulcet, acquiescent, opinionated. Characteristics I see mixed up in myself like DNA but different because these were impressed on me after I’d entered the world.
I hope that I’ve managed to take the good bits from them both and balanced them, though I know I haven’t accomplished this feat perfectly. I don’t think anyone can and be truly honest about who they are. And you know how I prize authenticity.
Whenever my parents visit it’s a good chance for me to gauge my own self, where I’m at on the spectrum of them. I’m reminded of the things I like and am annoyed by in their personalities and then I’m able to look at mine own actions and inactions and see how I’m doing. It’s a helpful reminder, a gentle correction so that I don’t end up completely like them. Not that I don’t strive to emulate them. I love my parents and all they’ve done for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be better.
(Isn’t that every parent’s hope? That their children will rise above them. Maybe this is usually meant socio-economically, but I think it should apply to personality as well. People always talk about wanting more for their children. But children are allowed to want more for themselves. I can have aspirations, too.)
Every time my parents visit it also serves as a measure to how far I’ve come in my life, how far I’ve distanced myself from my small hometown in Kentucky, and how much farther I still have to go. My family’s conversations are filled with talk of students (both my father and brother are teachers) and their middle-of-nowhere lives. The students’ parents who can’t understand that good grades are earned on merit and not awarded for effort alone, the school administrators piling form after form onto their teachers just to save their own asses from liability and the terror of litigious parents, the students whose world will end if at eighteen they aren’t popular or aren’t asked to prom by the right guy.
These people think life is made in high school, that a thing like valedictorian matters in the real world. They spend their school careers obsessed with all this minutia, never realizing it all matters for so very little. And then they go away to some state college and come back as teachers and lawyers and (the rare few) as doctors, content to spend the rest of their lives wrapped up in the politics of a small hometown where I guess the history of their high school careers does matter.
These people, my former classmates, still remember every high school moment, every triumph and slight, every bad hair day and every A on a test. Me? I can barely remember the names of my classmates, kids I spent fifteen years growing up with. I only talk to a few of them now. And maybe it’s my loss that I haven’t kept close. Some of my classmates I’m sure have moved on to different and exciting lives, far away from our roots in Madisonville. But for those back in my hometown, it seems like everyone’s still orbiting around their eighteen-year-old selves, stuck to that adolescent iteration of themselves and happy to stay there.
I can’t imagine how I’d be now if I’d gone back or stayed in Kentucky in the first place. I don’t even recognize my closeted eighteen-year-old self, I’ve changed so much since back then. What would I even do in Madisonville? I mean, the most interesting piece of recent news from my hometown is that the church near where I lived got turned into a plastic surgeon’s office. (A facelift for the congregation.)
I guess I could work at the bank or teach English at my old high school. Those are about the brightest options.
And as for fun in Madisonville? Apparently the big new thing is karaoke night at Applebee’s. Imagine me singing at an Applebee’s, wearing Walmart jeans and an Old Navy sweater.
Frightening, I know. But that’s what people do there for fun.
Not that living in my hometown would be all bad. It has its silver linings. I could help out with coaching my high school swim team and own a house. I’d save a ton of money on food and rent. But then I wouldn’t have met you.
We do have gays in my hometown, but none like you.