Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Home Is Weird

Home is full of little paradoxes, which tends to make being there a little strange. My trip over Christmas lived up to that standard...a long, strange trip, indeed.

After doing all the family/Christmas-themed things, I had a couple days to just chill, during which I really can't recall what I did. I believe naps featured prominently. But my last night in town, I went out to dinner with my parents and then attended a friend's birthday party. At dinner Dad handed me the wine list and inquired as to my suggestions for a bottle. Apparently living in California qualifies me to be their sommelier. (Admittedly, I probably do have a more extensive repertoire, particularly of California wines.) The surprising part of this interaction was in being treated as a peer, an adult, not my dad's daughter.

Two hours later, when he handed me the keys to his car, Dad asked what time I'd be home. Just like in high school. (I began to wonder if I still had a midnight curfew...but then realized I probably wouldn't be putting it to the test.) "It's Janesville. 10:30." Dad raised his eyebrow. "Ok, maybe later than that, but I can't imagine it'll be past midnight."

For the party, I'd packed jeans (it's Janesville – everyone would be wearing jeans) and what can only be described as a "going-out shirt." But when my friend's mom stopped over to chat on Christmas Eve (bearing a cheese ball, no less) and invited my parents to the party, it occurred to me that there would probably be other parent-types there. And that perhaps they wouldn't enjoy seeing my midriff through my translucent shirt. Whoops. Time for a new plan! I concluded that I could still wear the shirt, if I tossed a shrug-like sweater over it. I didn't take the sweater off all night. And I was still one of the cutest-dressed people there.

At the party, I caught up with four girls I went to high school with. We were mutually aware of each others' existence, but I wasn't friends with them. Now that we've been at several post-college events together, we actually can carry on not-so-awkward conversations. During one of these exchanges, Heather mentioned that there are a dozen girls, mostly friends from high school, but a couple additions from college (all of the high school friends attended the same college, 30 minutes away from home) who are still friends and every year they go away for a girls' weekend. This concept amazes me. I don't think I've ever been part of a 12-person circle of friends, and it certainly wasn't comprised of people I went to high school with!

I was left with a mild feeling of being an outsider -- a feeling which, while significantly diminished, has not yet dissipated, despite living in/having ties to Janesville for the past SEVENTEEN YEARS. (Seriously, people, how long does it take to be considered a local? Don't be too quick to bestow that term on me, though, I'm still ambivalent about the idea of being "from" Janesville.)

At one point during the evening, the five of us girls were chatting when a guy friend joined us. Upon seeing me he said, "Katie! Are you back? Like, are you just here for Christmas or did you move back to Janesville?" I didn't even have to answer, as each of the four girls shot him a withering look and one chortled, "No, she did not MOVE BACK here!" (The only thing missing was "as if" tacked on to the end of her statement.)

Despite my outsider status, I have made some noticeable inroads. When I stopped at the drug store to buy a birthday card, I recognized the cashier as the mother of a boy I went to middle and high school with. I debated about saying hello, but when there was no glimmer of recognition on her part, I decided to pass. Other than, "Hi, I'm Katie! Do you remember me?" what was there to say? "I went to school with your son and despite the fact that he's turning 30 this year, I can still only picture him as the 13-year old boy I had a crush on" just didn't seem appropriate. Besides, she probably would've asked if I'm married, and that becomes a pretty short conversation in a hurry.

Lastly, one of these high school girls (who still lives in Janesville) is newly engaged. I politely inquired about her fiancé, expecting not to recognize the name. Turns out he's a guy we graduated with. Though neither she nor I were friends with him in high school, I know exactly who he is because my mom taught him science at a different middle school than one I attended. So, I got all caught up on his life and dutifully reported back to my mother what one of her former students is up to.

After a couple hours of birthday fun, the high school girls headed out to the bars. I took my leave, as well -- why stick around when the few people I knew were leaving? -- and pulled in the garage at 10:38.

I don't know what any of this means, really. I guess just that there's some weird bond, maybe just the bonds of time, that tie me to this place that I'd never heard of or cared about before we moved there. Some day my parents will retire elsewhere and I'll have no reason to go back to that little city in Southern Wisconsin that everyone recognizes because of "The Oasis Cow." Dad won't show off all the fancy new restaurants in town. Mom won't brag that there's now a Starbucks over by the Interstate. (Awwww, my baby's all growed up!) My family won't marvel over the intertwined families, the descendents of whom stick around Janesville and marry each other and send their kids to school together and, apparently, plan a weekend getaway together once a year. It's a little sad to think that, someday, I won't be part of this place, that nobody expects me to move back, that I'm missing out on that kind of wholesome, small-town, everyone's-connected-to-each-other lifestyle. Then again, perhaps that's an idealized, insider version of reality. After all, it's not the life I had, even when I lived there.


At Wed Jan 10, 07:35:00 AM PST, Anonymous lisa said...

It IS sad to me that I no longer have any reason to go to Janesville. I'm not sure if I'll ever be back now that my parents are down here in Texas. I don't like knowing that I probably won't ever have the chance to "run into" random people from high school around town. Of course it helps when I think about the inevitable "Are you married?" conversation. "No, but I have an advanced degree and I live in a faraway place and I travel and ok, just no..."

At Wed Jan 10, 07:36:00 PM PST, Anonymous Kathy said...

Ok, you need to call and dish. I am rather curious as to who you saw. Plus, you will always have a reason to come to Janesville, or at least somewhere in WI. I really don't forsee us going anywhere and most of my family will always be there. Baby is due any day. I will call when she makes her grand entrance.

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