When I graduated from high school, I went to a school as far away as I possibly could. I ran away from my small hometown and never turned back. I wanted to leave everything behind – the stares, the whispers, the feeling of being excluded – and start new where no one knew my health history. I wanted to be anonymous, my surgeries and recoveries lost in the past. I didn’t want to be known anymore as “that disabled girl” or “the girl who’s always sick.” I wanted to be free of labels, free of those who knew me, free of my obsolete identity.
I read about the death of a childhood friend the other day and I was yanked home. The memories came flooding back, and sadness took hold. I can’t pretend that we stayed in touch; I hadn’t spoken to her in several years, even in this age of social media. And yet, I felt the loss. Friends, townspeople, and the comfort of my small town crept slowly into my mind. I wondered about the randomness of sickness, why it chooses one and not the other, the fates we are all dealt and how time can be clever and cruel. I’m not an overly philosophical person; I like facts, I like concreteness, I like answers and now I have none. I realized that I long to be home again. I realized that even though I thought I could recreate myself, be new and become someone else, I had taken with me one thing I cannot rid myself of: my community. I held on to the steadfastness of the farmers, the people’s belief in something bigger than themselves, and the lesson to “be you.”
I spent years running away from home, only to realize that it was with me this whole time. I earned degrees which would allow me to help others. I worked with women and children who had been physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. They knew the haunting cry of pain, and I knew the steadfastness that comes with the belief and faith that you are not here in this world for yourself, but to serve others. Hands that had been sculpted by years of reconstructive hand surgery held and comforted those who were hurt, hands that were viewed as “odd” wrote words that provided funding, and the hands that I had loathed for so long and had run away from had created opportunities for me.
Small towns have a funny way of calling you back home. You find yourself in them, even if you are hundreds of miles away. I am the product of the small farming town where I was raised. I am finally beginning to realize that without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. There’s no shaking my history, but in this knowledge I’ve found peace and resolve in my journey forward.