For those of you who are new to the blog, today is my birthday. Normally that wouldn’t be relevant except for the fact that every year on my birthday I write an off-topic essay on things that I’m passionate about. Here’s a little sampler:
So if today you don’t want to read an off-topic post, just proceed to my review of Aranya by Marc Secchia. If you do, stay tuned because I’m going to talk about change, small town hatred and what it’s like to taste freedom.
People make small towns seem so idyllic on TV, you know? Everyone knows everyone, you can let your kids out to roam around safely because the crime rate is pretty much zero (other than some vandalism) and they still hold onto traditional values. Sure, all of that’s true, but that’s just a part of the picture that many of our city-dwelling brethren see. That’s the part we want you to see because no one wants to talk about the really, really ugly side of things.
I live in a village of 180 people so you can see why I laugh my ass off when TV announcers say “small town” and are talking about a town of 2,500 or even 5,000 people. They don’t know what a small town is, trust me. My town is smaller than most university campuses and I guarantee the populace isn’t nearly so educated.
Now, the problem with living in a small town is that there’s nothing to do. Nothing to do means that two major problems happen:
- People turn to gossip and slander to keep themselves occupied; and
- The drinking rates for everyone, especially underage teens, skyrocket
In a small town, gossip is so bad that if I have a coughing fit at work because someone’s perfume is bothering my asthma, the whole town hears that I’m dying of pneumonia within the hour. And don’t even talk to me about keeping relationships a secret. Everyone knows everything about your relationship, including when you’re engaged (sometimes before you do, in one particularly notable case!) or when you’ve broken up. Now, gossip by the older folk in town gives teenagers and children a bad example and the bullying problem in the local school has been out of hand for years now.
As I also mentioned, the drinking rates are really terrifying. There aren’t any official statistics of course, but I’d say that 99% of kids grade ten to twelve drink almost every weekend at parties. Some kids start drinking at 13 or 14 if they have older siblings that invite them to party. This is seen as normal and even encouraged by their parents, who are so immersed in this drinking culture that it seems reasonable to be buying a case of beer for their 14 year old every other week or so. And the thing is? It’s never going to change because other than drinking, there is zero entertainment in my village and the nearest place with a mall or theater is an hour’s drive away. Therefore, almost everyone drinks.
Now I’ve been setting all of this up in an attempt to explain just how toxic the atmosphere in small towns can be. And this is just for straight, white, preferably males. If you’re a woman or a visible minority, you can pretty much forget about being totally accepted or even taken seriously. The redneck mentality of “wife stays home and takes care of children, outsiders (non-whites) are weird/evil” is the sort of traditional values that TV announcers allude to but never explain. And in my village, you also have to be either Roman Catholic or a Jehovah’s Witness to fit in and the Catholics are most certainly in the majority. They didn’t even take religion class out of the school (the public school) until this year and that was after some bitter knock-down, drag out fights both verbal and probably physical.
Enter me, a young woman who doesn’t believe she needs a man to fulfill all her aspirations in life. That marks me as an open target, particularly on the odd occasion when I express these views. Add to that the fact that I’m neither of the two main religions and I might as well just paint “outsider” on my forehead. That’s one of the many, many reasons why I need to get out of here. It’s stifling, to say the least.
I’m just so sick of the toxic atmosphere here, the vicious cycle of gossip and shunning that is prevalent in our microcosm of society. I’m sick of living in a town where I’m not taken seriously by the majority of people because I happen to have two X chromosomes instead of an X and a Y. I’m sick of living in a town that holds onto the facade of perfection so tightly that when a little girl committed suicide in the summer, nary a word was said about her by her classmates (or the teachers) when school was back in session. I’m sick of living in a town where all of my bad memories were created.
And that brings me back to my title: ‘sempre libera’. It means ‘always free’ in Italian and that describes my mindset right now. You see, I’ll be moving to the city in a little under a year and that both terrifies me and excites me.
I’ve travelled more extensively than 99% of people my age in my community, so at least I have an idea of not only what city life is like, but also the fact that there is a whole world out there to explore. There are (gasp!) openly non-hetero individuals, people of different races, people of different religions and people with different political views. I have met so many people fitting these descriptions during my travels that coming back to this homogenous community has been like someone dragging me from a good dream to put me back into a nightmare.
Amidst all of my excitement of getting out of a community that will never accept me, I’m also terrified. I’m going to be changing essentially everything about my life in just under a year: I’m going to start a new career, have to learn to navigate a city I’ve only been in for doctor’s appointments, live in a new apartment and just generally adjust to what amounts to an entire upheaval of my old life. I haven’t exactly always been afraid of change and most of the time I welcome it, but there’s a part of me that likes the status quo, even when it’s horrifying.
For the first time in my life, I will be free to show my real self. But who is the ‘real’ me? I’ve lived for so long under this agreeable, pliant facade I put on in public that it’s hard to tell who I really am anymore. I feel like the rebellious teenager I never was: part of me just wants to say ‘screw it’ when I move and try out everything possible. The more responsible part of me says that it’s my chance to make a name for myself where no one really cares that your family is the ‘weird’ one of the community or that you did [x] scandalous thing ten years ago.
When I move in just under a year, I’m finally going to let my spirit breathe. I can be anyone I want to be and for once in my life, I can set out on my own and do the things that make me happy without a whole community shaking their heads in disapproval at me. I can make new friends that share my values and are open to new ideas. And I will have the opportunity to try new things that I’ve always wanted to but never had the ability to, like rock-climbing or volunteering for various good causes. I can find love.
Freedom is exciting and terrifying, but once you have a taste of it you can never really go back. And that’s why I’ll be always free; I can’t imagine going back to my rusting, formerly gilded cage for another instant. I’m excited and terrified for the life-changing move in the summer of 2015 but mostly I’m hopeful. Hopeful that I’ll be able to not only cope with the huge change, but thrive and let my small-town facade slip. Once that happens, I’m never going back.