Monday, July 16, 2012

Who do you know?

Stream of consciousness Sunday.

I grew up in a small town  of about 2000 people in Iowa, not including outlying farm families. I thought I knew all of them and all of them knew who I was. Hell, I even knew everybody's dog. And I thought I knew almost everybody in the town 5 miles away where my grandma lived, and where I lived the first 2 years of my life

I finally figured out that wasn't true because one of my siblings or my mom would say, "Oh, you remember so-and-so." And I'd say "No, I don't remember him." And she'd say, "Oh, yes, you do. He was married to that Smith girl. They lived a couple of blocks west of the square." And sometimes I really didn't know somebody who had lived there all his life.

I could have saved myself a whole lot of paranoia if I'd known not everybody knew me and thus my parents. For the first 14 years of my life, I didn't think I could get away with anything because every single person in that town knew me and would tell my parents if they saw me doing anything wrong. I'm not even sure what I would have done to cause someone to call my parents before I was 14. Probably the worst I did was roll up my skirt after I was out of sight of my house so it would be shorter like everybody else's. But for the most part, all those prying, knowing eyes kept me in line.

Or they made me sneaky. Because when I turned 14, I did all kinds of shit that I didn't get caught doing. I did something every single day that I would have gotten in big trouble for, even if it was only smoking in the back of the laundromat.

One reason I couldn't wait to get out of that town was because I knew everybody there and everybody knew me. I started planning my escape when I was 8 and in third grade. I wanted to go to the city where I could be anonymous if I wanted to be.

Tonight I went to a special yoga class with a group of women who live near downtown, and then we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for food and wine. I knew several of the women who went, although it was open to a group of over 175 women. After dinner I ran over to the monthly story slam I've written about here before. I was too late to perform, but it was standing room only, and I knew more than half the people in the coffee house.

As I leaned against the counter and one-by-one caught the eyes of friends and acquaintances, smiled and waved, maybe whispered a few words, I realized something: I know way more people in this city than I did in that small town I grew up in. Way more. And the number keeps growing. It's worse better than Facebook.

I don't know everybody, of course, but you'd think in a town of 2000, I would know everybody. And in a metro area of over a million, I'd know far fewer.

Maybe it's because I'm an adult. I don't know. But the thought kind of took me back. I love living in this city, but one of the reasons I fled that small town at age 17 is one of the reasons I want to live here. I love the people I know here ... and even the ones I haven't met yet.

I will admit, on rare occasions even this city feels too small. Just like in a small town, I know people I can't fucking stand really wouldn't choose to know. Or people I've somehow pissed off, who refuse to forgive me. That can be uncomfortable for them.
I don't know why it was such an epiphany. Maybe that small town wasn't so claustrophobic after all. Maybe some pretty cool people with amazing stories lived there and I never met them.

Perspective is a funny thing, isn't it? Have you ever experienced a jolt in judgment that changed years of thinking. Something that changed your life?

In spite of my epiphany, I'm never going back to a small town. But since I realized I know such a shit ton of people here, I expect to feel like eyes are watching me and they're going to tell my mom if I do anything wrong. Like write about vaginas or smoke behind the garage.


  1. Oh yeah. Small towns. They are nice, but don't complain in the girls locker room about your aunt bleaching your socks until they disintegrate or your grandma will hear about it in the grocery store and threaten to tell all your friends how messy your room is. It's a documented phenomenon.

    1. I can imagine that all too well! :-)