When I was in my earlier teen years, I fantasized about the day I finally got to spread my wings and flee my hometown. The whole thing sounded like a dream – almost like I'd feel the water break across my face for the first time as I lifted myself from the sea, The Little Mermaid-style. I'd finally be escaping the torment of elementary school bullies to obsessive high school boys, the mean girls who'd look me up and down in my Anatomy and Physiology class, and the notoriously precise culture of the Mormon Corridor. My town's valley felt less like an embrace and more like a chokehold. Leaving Pocatello, Idaho was a fever I couldn't sweat out.
You see, I'm one of those girls who resonated wholeheartedly with the plight of Margo Roth Spiegelman in John Green's Paper Towns from the second I read it in the eighth grade. Pocatello, too, is a paper town of paper people. My peers felt two-dimensional as we navigated high school drama, all while going to the paper church to take paper sacrament or dancing on the paper drill team in front of a paper audience. Everything felt scripted, and everything felt predictable. I never quite fit in because Pocatello never quite fit me. It never felt like home.
So, it came as no surprise to anyone in the senior class when Declaration Day came along, and I told everyone I was packing up and moving to Montana. The mountains had always called to me and a five-and-a-half-hour divide between me and a toxic culture seemed to make the most amount of sense. Between a town of superficiality and me, who couldn't care less about appearances, would lie the Rockies, and all would be well.
But as I got a little older, the idea of leaving got a little harder.
For one, all I've ever known was Pocatello. As I drive down the two main streets of my hometown, each intersection and stoplight have a story. Pocatello has a soul. I can tell you like folklore the parking lot where I had my first kiss, the abandoned church my friends and I met up at to evade curfew, and playground I used to play pretend at in my childhood. The familiarity is daunting, and the stories Pocatello keeps close to its heart as secrets will haunt me for years to come.
Furthermore, this town and its people have raised me. Every Sunday, I get all dressed up to attend a congregation that has seen me grow from week to week. From Sacrament services where five-year-old Lyssa would fold her legs under her dress in the most unladylike fashion to the Tuesday-night youth activities eighteen-year-old Lyssa made every up excuse to not go to, I've grown up alongside their children and been taught lessons by the parents. Outside of my church, Pocatello knows me well and has shaped me into who I am. The coffee shops in town know my orders by heart while I'm on a first-name basis with the owner of our local Mongolian Barbecue. Without realizing it, each person I've encountered has helped me become who I'm meant to be, and it couldn't have been done without Pocatello.
This town has taught me more lessons than any one single person ever could. I've learned to love after I've been hurt. I've learned to forgive. I've learned how to trust, and how trust is broken. I've learned the harshness of my own reality – it's on Idaho State University's campus that I first came to terms with how bleak my anxiety really is, and it's on the same campus where I reached out for help. I learned how to be strong. I learned how to be weak. I learned that vulnerability is neither, and that emotion can sometimes feel like a powerful tool. I have come to understand love and lust and friendship and hatred and caring and indifference. How am I supposed to thank something that took me from birth to my early adulthood?
When I move, I'll be leaving behind a lot of things I adore. I'll be leaving behind my family, which means no longer cheering my little sisters on at track meets or orchestra concerts. Listening to my dad laugh at his own jokes will become a rarity and being able to walk across the hall to my mom for advice simply won't be tangible anymore. I'll leave behind a wide circle of friends, including a boyfriend who reaffirms my worth daily and a best friend who lives just down the street and has changed my life for the better. I'll leave behind my concert buddy who always has new music to show me, a wide array of debate-team members and alumnus who take me to Indian restaurants or jump-start my car, and old friendships that have since petered out. Looking beyond the people, I'll leave behind my beloved Idaho sunsets, the Ram Power fight song I sang begrudgingly throughout my youth, and the numerous other quirks Pocatello will keep.
Although I'll feel its absence when I'm gone, my time in Pocatello has drawn to a close. I'm excited for new adventures in Missoula, Montana, as well as new friends and new lessons, but the excitement tastes bittersweet. I couldn't imagine growing up anywhere else, and despite the small-town gossip and boring atmosphere, it will forever hold a very special place of my heart.