Oh, all those folks I expected more of and got so much less from.
Truth be told, they probably think the same of me.
But I conclude that it was really all my fault from the beginning. And they were generous in their open-armed acceptance. And I was a fraud.
Once upon a time I lived in a place called Flint. It was a factory town, where most everyone got their paycheck one way or another because of cars. We lived in a subdivision called “Mayfair” and my childhood was, as others no doubt saw it, “idyllic”.
People love that term.They mean, you grew up thinking you were fairly normal and you had enough to eat, and TV to watch, and a yard to play in, and got new clothes for the new school year, and a decent load of presents at Christmas. You got to swim in lakes in the summer, and skate on ice ponds in the winter. You ate blueberry pie from wild blueberries picked by your aunts and uncles and cousins. That sort of idyllic.
For no good reason that I ever figured out, kids like to join cliques. Being a “only” child, I was always looking for friends. My best friend as a small child was one of the kids across the street. She was a year older, but when you are young enough, that was okay. Still she was different than me. She came from a big family, me the “only”. She slept in until 9 or 10 in the morning, while I knocked on her door at 8, having waited an excruciating hour at that, to be told by her mom, that she hadn’t gotten up yet.
I sat some more.
Then when I got to older pre-teens I was with another group. I was, for a while, second to the leader, a dark haired girl name Patty something or other, who told us about the $400 dollar couch her parents had, which seemed to make her rich.
You were either on Patty’s good side or bad, and when on the bad, nobody else would play with you, meaning you couldn’t play jump rope with the gang. I tried hard to be on the good side of Patty. It was painful to fail. I was, as you can tell, not principled. I shunned who she shunned and did my best to lick her shoes.
Then there was the middle school years. I tried hard to be in the “in” group. The one that played sports, and were cheerleaders, and that sort of stuff. I was successful for a bit, but the funny thing was, that I was always hanging on by my fingertips, and I knew that. If we were going to meet at someone’s house to go out for pizza say, I had to be there early, because they would not wait for me. I was one they “put up with” until they didn’t.
Either they didn’t or I grew tired of trying to be “in” and being left “out” too much.
So I drifted to another group whose main attribute seemed to be a general dislike for almost everything that had to do with “that” school and “those” people. We hung out with some guys from another school. We were starting to drive now, and that broadened our horizons.
I felt accepted by them. But still, I probably never felt completely at ease. I was always having to “try”. We had fun for a few years, mostly going to dances, and walking to strip malls and drinking cokes and eating fries. We hung out every evening after school until it was time to go home.
Then we graduated, and I went off to college, and they went off to marriages and babies, and finally I left Flint, only visiting now and then to see family.
And I didn’t contact them, and they didn’t contact me, because I suppose we all knew it was never a proper fit. I was the one who got good grades in spite of trying to look very much that I didn’t care. I was the one who apparently had dreams they did not.
Not that they didn’t have dreams of course, they had them I’m sure, but they were very different from mine, and there was nothing to keep up “friends” after graduation.
I saw Flint as a place to escape from, they saw it as home. I saw education as the means to a life where I did important things, met important people, talked about important things. I met mayors and congressmen, and brilliant jurists and traveled on “business”, and they did what they did.
I no doubt felt superior, based on my assumption that everybody should want what I wanted, which is surely stupid on my part. But as the years went by, we had less and less in common surely.
Now we are all on the cusp of being real senior citizens, and we’ve reconnected and had those chats about the “old days”. And it was fine for a while. I tried to interact with those from the old groups whom I abandoned in my middle school years, and that was kinda sad.
Some were polite, some were friendly, until we realized that we believed radically different things. Several cut me out of their Facebook life. Others just ignored me. Even though I would dutifully “like” their constant “if you love your daughter share this”, and fishing trips and other stuff, they never returned the favor. My links to my writing was left with stony silence. My birthday was left unremarked about.
What the hell did I do to you?
Some were “friends” and we maintained the facade a bit longer. A few (those who share my general uber liberal beliefs) still share and “like” a lot, and chat on the side sometimes. But mostly even those who were my “best friends” for a good four years of the high school years, have silently slipped away, no longer interested.
Perhaps my beliefs offend them too. Who knows? As I said, they were open to me, while I always was trying to fit into that square hole with them. So I account it as no one’s fault, just water seeking it’s own level.
I cannot fathom the thought of living in that town still, and having always lived there. I’ve lived in four parts of the country, five really, and I don’t find that a lot frankly, from the friends I have now. We are all people who have traveled from location to location following jobs or dreams. It makes us different from people who haven’t I guess. Or at least it seems so.
I don’t bemoan any of it really. My life is too special to me here and now to lament that I don’t have friendships that are real with people I haven’t seen in 40 years. I just find it curious. And then I don’t. For if we had nothing much in common then, then it can only be worse now.
Mostly, I find that people who stayed in Flint became people I don’t like much. Not all, some seem to have escaped the provincialism and the tribal indrawn mentality. But most are hatin’ kind of people. I don’t know enough about their lives to judge. They say that each generation has it better than the last. My gut tells me that this was not true for most of them.
I guess its good mirror. My desire to learn served me well, bringing me out of a stultifying world and into a cosmopolitan environment where I met people from all over the world, enjoyed other cultures, and lost any sense of “them or us” in my thinking.
I’m a boomer, through and through, an Idealist. I scratch my head and wonder, “how can you think like that????” But dirty factory towns apparently do that to people. Flint became a mean place, in some ways worse that Detroit, because it was always “at least we aren’t Detroit”, and the fall was all the harder I suspect.
Or maybe this is all just me trying to defend me. Funny thing is, I don’t care. Aging does that. No more time for people who aren’t on the same page. As the meme says, “not my monkeys, not my circus”.
May your life bring you peace–mine has to a degree I would never have thought imaginable. I imagine that pisses some of you off. And that tickles me frankly.