It's a small town phenomenon.
A starry-eyed, ambitious young adult will live their whole life in one place, leave for college or move away to another town post-high school graduation, and marvel at the big, buzzing world out there that’s beyond the place in which they were born and raised.
The revelations people come to in reflecting on their new experiences (and subsequently reflecting on their roots,) though, are far from kind.
In the span of two weeks to six months time from one’s hometown departure, comes the Twitter rant, the Instagram post, or the Facebook status. “I’m so happy,” The 18 to 20-something-year-old announces, and, the first line in, you’re genuinely pleased to hear that they are doing well.
“So indubitably #blessed to be away from such toxicity.” They add, emphasizing the first four and five-syllable words that they learned how to misuse at college. “Leaving a small town with small minded people is the best thing that’s ever happened to me! My life has truly, officially started now that I don’t live in the place where I grew up in anymore and I honestly could not be happier! My heart goes to everyone that has yet to leave and especially to those poor, misguided souls that never will!”
They follow up with a peace sign or sunshine or sparkling heart emoji, maybe all three. Because, you know, their life is just that great that it calls for an excess of brightly colored emojis next to every sentence that they write, ever. #Namaste.
If it’s an Instagram picture, it’s a generically “candid” picture of them throwing their heads back laughing, or staring at a landscape, ocean, or brick building. (They are so #artsy and #cultured now that they have ventured out of their depressingly static hometown!)
The happiness that you initially felt at their success dwindles into an eye roll-esque kind of bitterness that is equal parts frustration and amusement. The deprecatory social media rant that screams of their artificial gratification is, at best, painfully predictable and, flatly, as unoriginal and mundane as the very person behind the redundant words.
And I get it, I do. Leaving a small town that's been all that you've known for your entire life and discovering some place new is like being visually impaired most of your life and then putting on glasses for the first time. There is so much that you didn't know was there, so many details and opportunities that you never knew existed.
But is your newfound happiness contingent on the condemnatory regard in which you hold for your hometown? The place that raised and supported you, the community that brought you up and stuck by you? Must you trash the upbringing that molded your character to show your 600+ Facebook friends or 1,100+ Twitter followers how #lucky you are to be #LovingLife ? Here's a hashtag: #GetAGrip .
Because the same streets that you resent for being filled with potholes are the ones that you rode your bike up and down as a kid. The same people you've casted off for being small minded and gossipy are the ones that would vouch for you if you were ever doubted, help you at a moment's notice with anything from picking up your little sister from the bus stop or cooking a meal if one of your parents were sick. The same town you're giving a middle finger to is the town that's only ever lifted you up with both hands, and you're too absorbed in your falsified perception of the world to see or appreciate that.
One day, I too will move out of this town in hopes of pursuing a successful career, and I will be adamant about not tearing this place down in the process. Because I'm rooting for all of us; every single one of us that comes from the same zip code. The try-hards, the outcasts, the military-bound, the radical politicians and the pot heads and the jocks. The people that I never got along with, the friends I've lost touch with over the years. I hope we all make something of ourselves.
Because we share these streets, these schools, these memories. Or at least, we used to. We used to take turns climbing on the monkey bars in our town's parks as children, or meet up in the same outdoor drinking spots on Friday or Saturday nights in high school.
We shared the same zip code; and that should mean something. Because at the end of the day, no matter where life takes us all, we are who we are because of where we come from. And for me, for us, for the town we all once knew as home, that's something to be proud of.