Dear Class of ’86,
There’s a reunion coming up. I don’t have any idea of how long it’s been–if I’d learned any math, I might know–but I also just don’t care enough to get out the slide rule.
I bring it up because its approach has inspired some vigorous conversation, which has, in turn, caused some thoughts that I must clarify.
And so I write.
First, I don’t hate you. There are members I hold dear–primarily my spectacular husband Tim–and I harbor no ill will to the rest. I feel the same way about my high school graduating class as I do about my kindergarten class; I just don’t identify with that group of people anymore. High school was four years of my life–not the worst four, not the best–just four years that I went through before I was fully formed. I spent three times that long at university (first as a student then as employee) and it was there that I became an adult.
It was that “becoming” process that served to undo any sense of belonging to the class of ’86. At college, I grew and fell and rose and strode into my own, with but a single high school touchstone (my dear friend Krista) to connect me to my “hometown”. In college, I became a mother, a process that caused my family to divest themselves of me, pushing me further from a sense of comfort in that hometown.
And I married a man of color, and gave birth to two bi-racial children, one of whom has a physical disability, and these experiences solidified my status as an outsider in the white, wealthy bubble of suburban Chicago. You might not understand why that matters, and that’s part of why I feel so separate.
Some of you have demanded I absolve individuals among you of this toxic conformity, a great hew and cry having gone up when I identified the casual racism of small-town life as one of my reasons for not wanting to go to the reunion. To that complaint I offer this: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”–Edmund Burke. I am averse to the culture and can no longer comfortably pretend it doesn’t exist.
So I guess the right word for what happened is that I “outgrew” you. And just like an old pair of shoes that I once dearly loved, when they were no longer comfortable to wear, it was time to move on. I don’t hate them, they simply do not fit.
There has been an implicit encouragement to acknowledge my “roots”, and somehow see that suburb as “home” … well, I explored those roots pretty thoroughly while I was living there raising my children after my first marriage ended. Reunited with my family’s disdain and the ill-fitting shoe of nostalgia, I limped through 14 additional years there.
I knew even as a child that I didn’t want to live in STC as an adult. I saw myself living on a craggy coastline in a cottage overlooking the wild Atlantic ocean. All the parts of “home” that I loved–the woods, the trees, the fields–are now subsumed into suburban sameness. My once-wild forest preserve halved, my overgrown paths in the woods now daily trod by local school groups. Even in the woods there’s no place to be alone in nature. My “home” is now the things I carry in my mind and heart. It no longer exists. I spent 14 years while I built my family staring at outlines, vague shadows of things I remembered.
Do I have roots there? No.
To use gardening parlance, STC was the seed medium in which I got a start, but eventually I needed to move to a bigger spot. I needed more space to spread out, and to find the right nutrients.
If you’ve read any of my blog at all, you know that I find conformity and homogeneity to be toxic to anyone who … well … anyone who isn’t just like you, Class of ’86.
And that ain’t me.
I hope you find what you’re looking for in your trip back in time. But please try to understand: the path I have been on since I graduated took me very far from the attitudes and mores of that suburban hamlet, and I have no desire to look backward. This has been *my* experience, and as I have repeatedly said, I don’t expect it to be anyone else’s.
But please don’t attempt to silence me because my experience has been different.