Monday, October 20, 2008

Cutting the Cord

I saw a former student of mine at the grocery store manning the booth that controls the self-checkout stands late last week. We had a sort of idle chat; I'm forever awkward in these sorts of conversations. I don't do small talk well. During the course of our brief, fumbling conversation I asked him if he was going to school anywhere. He had graduated last year and had been a decent student so I had assumed he was in college somewhere like most of his friends. Turns out that he wasn't. I'm assuming he's working at the grocery store full time while he decides what to do with his life.

The thing that struck me the most was that he seemed a bit fearful of the idea of moving past his childhood or very far away from his hometown. He'd been accepted into a performing arts school out west somewhere but wasn't sure he wanted to go that far away from home. He was currently looking at a state university and a Christian music school somewhere in the Carolinas. I knew he wanted to be a church music minister or a music missionary (those really do exist; I was surprised when I discovered this fact last year as well), so I told him that sounded like a good fit for him and I left the store with more awkward small talk goodbyes.

I've never really understood the fear of moving on with your life. My frustrations have always involved external limitations keeping me from the more drastic changes I've desired, but then I was a naturally independent kid living with a mother who valued and encouraged independence in her children. I always looked forward to leaving high school and my hometown behind, not because of a horrible experience I had in high school, but because I was just ready to move on and see what else there was out there.

And I'm the type of person one might expect to have had the Carrie-like high school experience with my social awkwardness and geekier interests, except I didn't. I wasn't getting invited to the cool parties, but honestly, I never cared. In school, I got along well with the popular kids. It was a small school district. I'd been in classes with all of the popular kids for most of my childhood. If I'd been the target of their ridicule, they were doing it behind my back and out of earshot and being friendly to my face. I'm entirely okay with that. It means I at least was allowed enough respect that kids didn't just come out and mock me to my face. Of course that could have had something to do with my 6-foot-plus frame and the fact I waled on that one kid in 8th-grade who'd picked on me one time too many. There was the bit of teasing I endured on the tennis team (comes from the fact that half of the boys team was composed of football players getting in their spring sport and jock culture involves a lot of ridicule), but it wasn't anything all that bothersome, especially when I started beating them out in practice.

Despite the lack of actual misery experienced in high school, I've never longed to go back or felt nostalgic about anything other than the fact that after high school I didn't get to spend as much time with that close group of friends I developed there. Reunions seem rather pointless to me. If they're people I care about seeing again, I already keep in touch with them as much as possible. Why would I go stand around some big room talking to people I didn't bother talking to in high school and probably failing to remember their names anyway.

Basically, when I went on to college and realized that there was a place where people like me were common and most of my interests were easily accommodated, I no longer had any need to worry about high school or the people there I didn't consider close friends.

My mom says I'm a bit of an elitist, but I really think it's just that I can't afford to care about everyone personally. Why force myself to take an active interest in people just because they happened to live in the same place I did growing up? There are much more interesting and compatible people out there for me to concern myself with.


Courtney said...

I also wasn't afraid to move away from my hometown (obviously, since I've twice moved to states where I don't know a soul and will probably do it again in the coming year.) However, I wasn't ready to go too far away when I was 18 and going to college. I still wanted to be within easy driving distance of my family then. As I grew older, I got more comfortable with being further away. Maybe that kid you ran into just needs to grow up a little before he can find the courage to move away too.

Jacob said...

I think I was a bit unclear in in that post. The kid didn't just seem uncomfortable with the idea of moving cross country right out of high school, but the fact that he seemed afraid to even move a couple of hours away or to even make a decision about what he wanted.

I'm all for keeping your options open, but you've got to start working on one or they all fall away. I don't have any problem with wanting to take a smaller step in breaking away than I did, although you had more options within an hour's drive of your parents' house than I or this kid did. He's not even going to the junior college down the road close enough for commuting. A lot of kids from here go that route because they don't have to leave home so soon and that's fine.

I mentioned myself only as an opposite attitude that I'm familiar with, not as an ideal. I've never fully decided whether my ability to wander away from home and loved ones for an extended time without a sense of loss, longing, or need to reconnect was a virtue or a flaw in my personality.

I think part of it is that this kind of ties into an aspect of the culture I grew up in that I've never really liked. Kids tend to cling to their parents. They go to the nearby junior college and if they go further than that with their education it's either Southern or an agricultural college because they can drive home every weekend and then they build a house next door or behind their parents' house. Too many people here never doing that growing up to find the courage to move away and experience new things and it's a little sad, I think.

Julie said...

Amen on the high school thing. I skipped my 10 year reunion. I don't talk to any of those people any more. And I can't think of much we have in common that would make it worth trying to catch up.

Chris said...

Yeah, I just skipped my 10-year reunion last weekend. I considered going. There are a couple of people I'd like to catch up with, but then I decided those people didn't seem the type to show up at the reunion anyway.

Obviously I haven't ventured too far from home -- still an easy day trip to see any member of my family whom I've ever met. But I knew well before my senior year of high school that I had to get out of my parents' house and not even think about going back after college.