I have a tendency not to look back. When I leave a place, I know it will change and the people I knew will leave. It is the nature of life in academia, where most of the people you know are students who graduate and faculty who find themselves elsewhere.
I went to college at a huge university, University of Illinois, with its 40,000 students. I knew very few fellow students, and it was only when I found a core of like-minded people — a couple faculty members, a few students, a few townies — that I felt an attachment to people for the first time.
When I left Urbana-Champaign for Oneonta New York, I was alarmed at how small the city and the college were. Soon, however, I grew to enjoy the artistic quirkiness of the town, and I got to know people through coffeehouse culture. I had a network of friends — not close friends, but friends I occasionally spent time with, and some who kept me sane when my marriage broke up (for reasons I don’t talk about, but it was much more dramatic than “we grew apart”)
I left Oneonta after five years for a guy. (Not the guy I’m married to). I have always been a “bloom where I am planted” sort of person until I moved to Maryville, MO. After twenty years there, I have not really bloomed. I have grown into a crabbed, stunted plant in hardscrabble soil with little nourishment. I don’t know why I feel this way — Maryville is a college town. It has activities at the university, and my colleagues are quirky. But I have not felt nurtured nor safe here.
Actually, I do know the reason why — Maryville was the town where two underage girls thought they were creeping out to meet a dreamy high school football player at a party. They were plied with alcohol and passed out. One was raped by the dreamy high school football player, who was the grandson of a state legislator. The charges were dropped by the prosecuting attorney. You might have heard of the girl — her name was Daisy Coleman, and she was 14 or 15 at the time.
The fact that some people could say “You didn’t know the whole story” when the girl was clearly underage makes me feel like living in Maryville is one lurking trigger, even years later. Bad things may happen everywhere, but the level of support the young man got, the fact that Daisy’s family was driven out of town, the condescending coverage the local newspaper gave the protestors — Maryville turned from a difficult town to find nurture in to a burg swarming with ugly shadows.
But now, finding myself back in Oneonta, I am looking back. The town has changed; it’s a little bigger and a lot busier and the signs on the businesses on Main Street could use a little beautification. The college has gotten so many new buildings I hardly recognized it. But my favorite restaurants — Brooks BBQ and the Autumn Cafe — are still here, and there’s lots of coffeehouses (I’ve already found my favorite).
I would love to move back to Oneonta someday. I may never find it; the cost of housing is somewhat higher and we’re a one-income household so we don’t have much set back in savings. Oneonta had become home to me, just like Urbana-Champaign had, but maybe I can’t go home again.